GEORGE KENNEDY: General Assembly running itself into the ground

Friday, March 8, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

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.

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Jimmy Bearfield March 8, 2013 | 12:11 p.m.

"We don’t hear that complaint much, do we?"

You must not have heard all of the citizens and pundits asking why graduation rates, test scores and other key secondary-ed metrics are flat or declining even as property taxes continue to soar. That concern isn't limited to CoMo or even Missouri. There's skepticism nationwide that throwing more money at schools is going to do anything abut parents and kids who don't value education, or the promiscuous who don't care about their kids, period.

Face it: There just aren't enough of "the rich" to soak to pay for everything.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor March 8, 2013 | 1:15 p.m.

Taking more and more from fewer and fewer has never, ever worked in history, yet we have seemingly educated people that continue to espouse this failed method.

When the top 1% of our people, who earn the top 17% of all the income earned, pay 37% of the taxes, and the FIFTY PERCENT of our people, who earn the bottom 13% of all income earned, only pay 2% of the taxes, the imbalance has already grown out of whack.

(That's a 218% ratio of taxes paid per income made at the top 1%(made not given...) vs 15% of taxes paid per income made at the bottom FIFTY PERCENT for those of you keeping score...)

IMHO, you look absolutely foolish when your answer is to worsen this imbalance by taking more and more from fewer and fewer. Add to this the fact that in many cases, the real problem at hand is a lack of personal responsibility, (It's the parents not the schools!), rather than the lack of someone else's money and it gets worse. I don't want to call names, so I'll stop here ;-)

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 8, 2013 | 1:41 p.m.

"From each according to his [her] ability, to each according to his [her] needs."

I'll bet Mike and Jimmy know where that piece of garbage originated.

A teacher introduced the above concept to his high school class. Virtually all the students thought it was a fine idea, so the teacher said he'd apply it to the class' final exam. When he graded the papers he'd show on each one the numerical score the student actually achieved, but ALL the students would be given a "C" grade.

The students who normally achieved A and B grades complained bitterly. Those who usually got Cs felt okay with the new policy, but said they might not study for the exam because, they'd get a C in any case.

Normally D and F students were absolutely thrilled with the new policy, saying they too probably wouldn't study for the exam either. Just look at how their grades had arbitrarily been improved! Their parents might even stop yelling at them. :)

Socialism/Communism explained - and for free!

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 8, 2013 | 5:38 p.m.


Two extraneous but somewhat related comments.

First, a significant number of wealthy residents of the Kansas City metro area already reside in Kansas: in Johnson County. Johnson County has become the second most populous county in Kansas, after Sedgwick County (Wichita). Somehow, particularly given property values in Johnson County, I don't see a mass migration of Missourians accross the state line.

I am all aglow at having received a birthday card from state Senator Kurt U. Schaefer - signed, no less - but I'm wondering whether Senator Schaefer is aware I am no longer a Missouri resident and am thus unable to legally vote for him. The card was sent to my former address and forwarded to me by USPS.

Momma always said to vote both early and often.

(Report Comment)
frank christian March 8, 2013 | 9:29 p.m.

Can't help it Ellis. I get birthday cards from my insurance company, because I send them money, not because I vote for them.

When Senator Schaefer hears from you again, I bet you will hear from him, again. If he doesn't hear from you, Xmas, Easter and Veterans Day cards may be forthcoming. Happy Birthday!

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 9, 2013 | 6:45 a.m.

Thank you, Frank. I achieve the BIG 80 on Monday. I represent living proof of the lyrics in that Billy Joel song, "Only The Good Die Young." :)

I receive cards for every conceivable occasion from Morgan Stanley, most always depicting bulls and bears (the damned creatures turn up in some strange situations on those cards).

Since this is attached to Kennedy's article I want to point out that we - and by now George should know who "we" refers to - actively recruit public and private high school students in Johnson County, Kansas*, Polk County, Iowa, and several counties in the Chicago, Illinois area. What's that costing Missouri taxpayers? Nothing! Our alumni are our unpaid recruiters.

*- At one time, and for maybe 50 years duration, studnts from the entire state of Kansas were not required to pay out of state tuition if they enrolled at our campus and took certain majors. I know several of those former students; one is a Ceramic Engineer, like me.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller March 9, 2013 | 7:35 p.m.

Congratulations on becoming an octagenarian Ellis--I have two more years to wait. I am unaware of any perks that might come with attaining that ripe old age--other than you are expected to take more and longer naps. My goal is to reach my 100th birthday whereupon, I will smoke a marijuana cigarette to see if I have missed anything by being so utterly squre and law abiding.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 10, 2013 | 6:50 a.m.

J. Karl:

Thank you. I don't expect to reach 100. My late father holds the family longevity record at 96 years and 10 months. My maternal grandmother, born, raised and educated in Germany, died at the ripe old age of 42. Go figure.

Pot is overrated. I suggest that for the 100th anniversary of your birth you consider chasing a few pretty, nubile women around the house. True, you may not catch any of them, and you could die from the exertion, but then chances are you'll die with a smile on your face. I wonder whether Frank and Michael would agree.

Gemuetlich! (A decided sense of well-being.)

(Report Comment)

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