ANALYSIS: Missouri limits life span of state programs

Sunday, August 1, 2010 | 4:40 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Just like the state lawmakers who write them, Missouri programs have term limits. And the clock is running low for several of them.

A 2003 state law gives new government programs and tax credits a maximum six-year life span with an option for up to another 12 years if legislation is approved to extend the program.

The automatic program expiration already is wiping out one program, and reviews have started for at least five more that are set to expire next year.

A trust fund for videotaping military veterans' stories ends this year, because lawmakers failed to extend its life.

But lawmakers opted to keep the Missouri Higher Education Deposit Program, which also would have expired this year. That program allows banks to set up savings accounts or certificates of deposit to help parents save for their children's college education. Nonetheless, that program will essentially remain on hold because of a decision by federal securities regulators.

Still, the list of program casualties could grow next year.

The Committee on Legislative Research — a joint House and Senate panel — is mulling whether to recommend continuing several programs. They include ones soliciting donations to help military families, offering a tax break for donations to food pantries, creating school pilot programs to encourage kids to be healthy and helping seniors pay for prescription drugs.

Some hope to keep those soon-to-be-departed initiatives around for a while longer.

For example, Missouri food pantries would like to continue the program that awards state tax credits to the donors that help them feed the hungry. Since the program was created by a 2007 law, more than 3,000 taxpayers have received tax credits worth nearly $1.5 million, according to the Missouri Department of Revenue. Because the tax credit is worth half the donation, that means the state's food pantries have received about $3 million in donations.

Scott Baker, the state director for the Missouri Food Bank Association, said need for assistance is high because of the poor economy, and the tax credit has helped to spur donations. He estimated that five people can be fed for every dollar donated.

"There is no doubt we have seen an increase (in donations), and there's no doubt it would hamper donations if it were to sunset," he said.

However, tax credits have become a politically sensitive issue in the state Capitol, and Baker said the group has not yet reached out to specific lawmakers to ask them to extend the life span of the food pantry credit. The Food Bank Association represents food banks, pantries, shelters and kitchens.

A survey released by Feeding America estimated that about 728,000 Missourians received help from emergency food banks last year.

Another program facing potential demise next year is a checkoff box on state income tax returns that allows refunds to be donated to help the families of military guard and reservists called to active duty. The money is awarded through grants and designed to help cover bills and unexpected costs.

If programs do expire, their ideas may live on.

Emerging from the ashes of the veteran videos project is an attempt to turn the initiative over to college students. Lawmakers and other officials hope to enlist students at the Missouri School of Journalism to replace a Chesterfield-based company that the state paid more than $1 million to produce more than 1,000 videos.

A committee that is working to continue the project despite the loss of state funds has started meeting to figure out how to incorporate the veteran interviews into course work, who should pay for the recording equipment and whether to expand the program to cover veterans from ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

EDITOR'S NOTE — Chris Blank has covered state government and politics for The Associated Press since 2005.

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