WHAT OTHERS SAY: Koster's opinion boosts case to kill tax bill in Missouri

Monday, September 2, 2013 | 2:14 p.m. CDT; updated 10:22 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 2, 2013

A legal opinion from Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster should put the debate over a controversial income-tax cut bill to rest.

In seeking to persuade legislators to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of House Bill 253, House Speaker Tim Jones asked Koster to weigh in on Nixon’s contention that it could cost Missouri $1.2 billion by making a possible income-tax cut retroactive for three years.

Koster’s opinion: Yes, it could.

The problem stems from a provision in the bill calling for the half-percent cut to go into effect if the U.S. Congress passes the Federal Marketplace Fairness Act, a bill making it easier for states to collect taxes on Internet purchases. But House Bill 253 specifies that all tax changes in the bill, including the one contingent on Congress’ action, would apply to “all tax years beginning on or before” the effective date of the changes.

Missouri law limits the window on collecting tax credits and refunds to three years. A half-percent income tax cut would cost the state $300 million or more for one year. Over four years, the damage would indeed amount to at least $1.2 billion.

GOP supporters of the law have protested that the “on or before” language in the bill is a drafting error and optimistically predicted the courts wouldn’t require the cuts to be retroactive.

But, as Koster noted, “If the General Assembly did not intend that taxpayers should get any benefit from the backward-looking change, why include that language?”

Good question.

“Courts are loathe to render statutory language meaningless,” the attorney general added, and noted precedents in Missouri law and court rulings that favor taxpayers over the government when taxes are imposed.

Having failed to get the opinion he wanted, Jones promptly accused Koster of playing politics and “parroting the governor’s talking points.”

All we can say is, be careful what you ask for, Mr. Speaker.

Koster’s opinion reaffirms what independent analysts and others have said all along: House Bill 253 is a sloppy piece of legislation that could have dire consequences for Missouri citizens and services. To vote to override the governor’s veto and put the state at risk would be the height of irresponsibility.

Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.

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