House legislators in Jefferson City wasted no time giving a thumbs up to a proposed constitutional amendment that would lock in Missouri’s standing as a pathologically cheap state that fails to invest in its institutions and people. The Senate should shelve this bad idea.
Missouri already has a constitutional spending restraint, the Hancock Amendment. State spending as a percentage of the economy has not increased since the 1980s. Now some lawmakers want to limit spending even further to the annual rates of inflation and population change plus 1.5 percent of the revenue collected by the state in the previous year.
Lawmakers who voted for the amendment said they want to build up the state’s reserve funds and guard against wild swings of spending and cutting. Those are reasonable objectives. But the rigid proposed cap would prevent state leaders from setting healthy priorities and making up lost ground.
Missouri’s per capita spending on higher education, for instance, is near the bottom of the 50 states — 45th by a recent estimate.
And an advocacy group, Trust for America’s Health, calculated that Missouri spent $9.26 per person on public health in the 2008-09 fiscal year. The national average among the states was $28.92 per person. As a result, Missouri has shockingly high rates of obesity and high blood pressure. Life expectancy rates for women are declining in more than one-fourth of the state’s counties.
Spending caps are political winners, but Missouri’s lawmakers and governor should be talking about raising revenues for a state that is falling behind.
Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.