Missouri counties struggling for approval of 'use tax'

Tuesday, November 13, 2012 | 11:42 a.m. CST; updated 6:24 p.m. CST, Tuesday, November 13, 2012

JEFFERSON CITY — When a Missouri Supreme Court ruling invalidated some vehicle taxes in cities and counties, local government officials turned first to the legislature in attempt to reinstate an important source of revenue. When that failed, some local officials put the issue on the ballot.

But voters rejected the so-called use taxes in two-thirds of the Missouri cities and counties that placed them on the November ballot, according to figures supplied Tuesday by local government associations. The mixed results aren't likely to end the matter. More local governments are expected to refer local use tax proposals to their voters next spring.

In the meantime, some local governments may have to trim expenses, because they will no longer be receiving tax revenue they once had counted upon.

"It's not going to be something that's going to bankrupt them or put them in severe revenue shortfalls," said Richard Sheets, deputy director of the Missouri Municipal League. "But something is not going to be done. Medium- or small-sized cities, they may not be able to hire a police officer, or they may have to wait longer to patch potholes."

The local tax concerns stem from a Jan. 31 decision by the Missouri Supreme Court, which ruled that Greene County could not charge a local sales tax on a man who bought a boat, motor and trailer from a dealer in Maryland. The court drew a distinction between sales taxes, which are collected from in-state retailers, and use taxes, which are levied on products used in Missouri but bought either from an out-of-state retailer or from an individual who does not run a business.

Although the state use tax could be imposed on the boat and its accessories, the court ruled Greene County could not tax them because they were not covered by the local sales tax and county voters had not approved a local use tax. Concerned about the financial hit to local governments and auto dealers, the Legislature passed a bill in May that would have undone the Supreme Court ruling and retroactively reinstated local sales taxes on vehicles. But Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill, saying counties and cities should have a voter-approved local use tax if they want to tax vehicles bought from anywhere besides a Missouri dealership.

Heading into the Nov. 6 elections, 41 of Missouri's 114 counties and more than 90 of its roughly 950 municipalities had local use taxes.

Local use taxes were approved last week in Adair and Saline counties, as well as the cities of Huntsville, Kirksville, Moberly and New Cambria.

But voters rejected local use taxes in far more places, including Buchanan, Macon, Mississippi, Randolph, Sullivan and Vernon counties. Uses taxes also failed in the cities of Callao, Clark, La Plata, Macon, Mount Vernon, Pleasant Hill and St. Joseph.

Officials offered a variety of reasons for the failure of the taxes.

"It's a difficult tax to understand. It's a tough time to be talking about a tax to voters. There were a lot of things on the ballot," said Dick Burke, executive director of the Missouri Association of Counties.

In Mississippi County, the local use tax lost by 70 percent of the vote. But in Sullivan County, it was narrowly defeated — 1,256 against it, 1,240 for it.

Before the Supreme Court decision, Buchanan County had collected about $250,000 annually and St. Joseph about $450,000 annually from taxes on out-of-state vehicle sales. But voters in both jurisdictions rejected local uses tax proposals by 59 percent of the vote last week. City officials had said the revenues would have gone to street repairs and public safety projects, such as facilities and equipment for police and fire departments. County officials had wanted to use the revenues for roads and the sheriff's office.

Despite the recent losses, some officials expect better success when cities and counties seek to impose local use taxes in the future.

"I think the message is starting to resonate with people," Burke said. "This is the new economy we're living in now. Our current tax structure of sales taxes in this Internet day and age just isn't sufficient."

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Richard Saunders November 13, 2012 | 4:06 p.m.

Try and justify it any way you want, but taxation is theft. ALWAYS!

Meanwhile, bloated governments might actually have to deal with being told NO for once. Well, more likely they'll keep spending until they go bust, then beg Uncle Sugar for another hit, which will be provided in the form of low interest "loans."

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams November 13, 2012 | 5:50 p.m.

RichardS: Taxation is theft?

Everything that follows is conjecture because I'm too lazy to study the actual history:

I don't think it was always that least in principle. Once folks decided to live and organize together, they understood there were things they all needed like stone tools, mammoth meat, fire, ivory, and a nice cave with running water but no toilet. With advanced society, those "things" morphed into roads that connected us all, schools, government buildings, police, fire department, and the like. Along that entire journey, CITIZENS were the folks who taxed themselves, not government; they did so with their own consent. Everyone understood the need and agreed.

I'm guessing things started to morph more towards government mandates the same day some local grump named Liber decided he wanted the actual shekels from OTHER'S payments while using stuff for free an' sittin' around eating on a raisin, a grape, an apricot, a pomegranite, a bowl of chitlins, 2 bananas, 3 Hershey bars, and sipping onna RC Coca Cola, listenin' to his transistor and watchin the grand-ol-opry while readin' Mad Magazine and singin' "Does your chewin' gum lose it's flavor". (PS: Let's see how old everyone is!)

His name, Liber, is the origin of the term "liberal" since Liber meant "stuff for free" in the Cro-Magnon language which was mainly in France and Greece until Columbus brought it to the New World. Or maybe the Vikings did it.

Eventually, laws and a sleepy electorate allowed government to dictate taxes; this happened because there were more taxpayers than not.

Finally, there came a point where the number of folks not paying taxes exceeded those who did.

Somewhere along that line, "contribution to society" became "theft".

(Report Comment)

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