I hadn’t intended to write about the Missouri legislature again so soon. Last Friday’s examination was discouraging enough, I thought. But as I read the newspapers this week, I realized that watching the General Assembly at work is like watching a particularly horrific traffic accident.
You want to look away, but you just can’t. The big difference, of course, is that with the legislature, the real victims are us.
In case you missed it, here’s the latest development in the Republicans’ campaign to lessen the tax burden on the wealthiest Missourians, shift it to the rest of us and cut services:
The Senate gave first-round approval (“perfected,” in the arcane language of legislation) Wednesday night to a bill sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus, R-Kansas City, that would cut the state’s already-low income tax rate for individuals and businesses and replace some, but not nearly all, the lost revenue by increasing the sales tax rate.
Let’s see a show of hands from all who believe that essential state functions such as supporting higher and lower education, mental and physical health, and transportation are currently over-funded. We don’t hear that complaint much, do we?
Sen. Kraus estimates that his proposal would cut another $450 million a year from state revenue. The responsible minority puts the loss at closer to $700 million a year. That would be the sequester on steroids.
The ostensible driving force behind the cuts, according to supporters, is the fear of losing businesses and, I suppose, rich people to Kansas. You’ve probably seen that the legislature there, inspired by Gov. Sam Brownback, has slashed tax rates. Those cuts took effect Jan. 1. So far, there’s been no stampede across the state line.
What there has been, though, is a report by that legislature’s own budget analysts projecting a budget shortfall of $782 million by 2018. And the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out that a Kansas judge has ordered the state to invest an additional $442 million a year in education.
Doesn’t look so much like a model to be emulated, I’d say.
A much louder voice says to the contrary. Actually, Rex Sinquefield doesn’t speak loudly, but he carries a big and generous purse. Mr. Sinquefield, you’ll recall, is the multi-millionaire who has been trying unsuccessfully for years to buy enough legislative support to dump the graduated income tax altogether. He also bankrolled Todd Akin’s notoriously failed run for the U.S. Senate last year. His political contributions since 2006 total about $12 million.
Both Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Republican, and Rep. Chris Kelly, a Democrat, have accepted his largesse.
Thanks to the Post-Dispatch, we have this bit of candor from a radio interview of Mr. Sinquefield last fall. He was asked how he thought the Kansas tax cuts would affect Missouri. His reply:
“I think this is a massive tsunami that’s going to hit Missouri. Now I also want to fully disclose that I gave money to promoters of this in Kansas, and I also gave money to promoters of the same sort of thing in Oklahoma, as a way of getting something going here in Missouri. Our General Assembly has been possessed with inertia.”
A plutocrat’s idea of inertia is my idea of good judgment and simple fairness.
I put in a call to Sen. Schaefer, in hopes of getting his take on this and his explanation for the constitutional amendment he is pushing to require state officials to oppose any “infringement” of the right to bear arms. He hasn’t returned my call.
To be fair to Sen. Schaefer, I should note that the Appropriations Committee he chairs did vote this week to move forward that $950 million bond issue for capital improvements.
Occasionally, someone walks away, battered but alive, from the worst traffic accident. Maybe there’ll be at least one survivor of this legislative wreck, after all.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.