47th District candidates call for tax credit reform at forum

Friday, July 13, 2012 | 6:17 p.m. CDT; updated 11:54 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 31, 2012

COLUMBIA — Democratic candidates for the 47th District seat in the Missouri House said at a Friday candidate forum that they would reform the state's tax credit programs. 

Democrats John Wright and Nancy Copenhaver are battling for their party's nomination, but they found common ground in their desire to scale back Missouri's tax credits during a discussion hosted by the Boone County Muleskinners.

"We are far too heavily invested in tax credits," Copenhaver said. "We don't need to rely on them that much."

Wright added that tax credits now cost Missouri between $600 million and $700 million a year in revenue. Missouri is expected to redeem $685 million in tax credits in fiscal 2013.

Both Wright and Copenhaver said tax credit reform would improve the state's budget outlook and free up money for other programs. Wright called the current state budget a "starvation diet," while Copenhaver added that Missouri "cannot continue to cut its way to prosperity."

The issue of tax credits has been a thorny one for lawmakers in Jefferson City. The Republican-controlled legislature tried twice in 2011 to come to an agreement on scaling back tax credits, but both efforts failed. 

Republican infighting in the House and Senate about whether there should be "sunsets" or mandatory expiration dates for certain tax credit programs derailed efforts to cut back

Friday, Copenhaver said she would push for sunsets if elected. Wright stopped short of specifically calling for sunsets, but said he would look for ways to scale back the historic preservation tax credit. It is one of the state's largest tax credit programs and is budgeted to distribute $125 million in fiscal 2013.

The issues

Wright and Copenhaver fielded questions from members of the Muleskinners, a club sponsored by the Boone County Democratic Party, revealing their stances on several issues:

  • Wright and Copenhaver support abortion rights, and both supported Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of legislation limiting access to contraception
  • Both called for a moratorium on the state's death penalty.
  • Both said they would support a ballot initiative to increase the state's cigarette tax.
  • On education, Copenhaver said teachers need to have more input in the process. Wright said his priority would be to increase funding to early childhood programs. 
  • Both candidates opposed the so-called "fair tax," which would eliminate the state's income tax and replace it with a higher sales tax. 
  • Both candidates said they would vote no on "right to work" legislation being pushed by Republicans. The measure would prohibit unions from requiring membership from people working in certain jobs. 
  • Both oppose "voter ID" laws requiring people to use a valid government picture ID card to cast a vote. 

The candidates

They may not have different stances on many of the issues, but their life experiences are quite dissimilar. 

Copenhaver served in the state House in 2001 and 2002. She has lived in mid-Missouri for more than 40 years. She taught high school business classes for 28 years, and Paul Copenhaver, her husband of 38 years, is a retired band director.

Wright is a business owner. A Hickman High School graduate, he went to Yale University in 1998 and earned a degree in economics. In 2005, he earned a law degree from Yale and served as editor of the school's law review. He also worked in Democratic Gov. Bob Holden's office in 2003.

Copenhaver said her experience in public life and her record show she is a "reasonable, middle-of-the-road" candidate.

Wright said his love of the Columbia community and his economic strategy set him apart.

The election

The winner of the Aug. 7 primary between Copenhaver and Wright will face Republican Mitch Richards in the November general election. 

Richards is running unopposed for his party's nomination, but he is the fourth Republican to be nominated for the seat

Democrats face an uphill battle to take control of the Republican-dominated General Assembly. Republicans hold a two-thirds majority in the Senate and are only three votes shy of a two-thirds majority in the House. 

Due to the number of Republicans running unopposed in the state Senate, it is mathematically impossible for Democrats to control that chamber.In the state House, Democrats would have to pick up 26 seats out of 163. There are, however, 52 House races where Republicans are running without Democratic opposition. 

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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