WHAT OTHERS SAY: Legislature takes the 'Show Me' out of Missouri

Monday, April 7, 2014 | 12:20 p.m. CDT

For several years now, spurred by some of their biggest political donors, chiefly Rex Sinquefield, Missouri Republicans have been obsessed with the idea of lowering taxes in the state.

Their argument for cutting taxes, particularly for the wealthy and certain corporations, is based on the long-debunked “trickle-down” economics theory once espoused by President Ronald Reagan, patron saint of the latest iteration of the GOP.

If low taxes were the sole key to prosperity, Missouri would have the most robust economy in the country. That’s because for more than three decades, it has had one of the lowest tax burdens in the country.

The mantra of Republicans such as Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, and Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, as they passed such a tax cut bill last year, was “look to Kansas.”

Thankfully, last year’s tax cut bill, which would have robbed schools of hundreds of millions of dollars in needed revenue, was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon.

Last week, the Missouri Senate passed this year’s version of the “Be Like Kansas” tax cut bill. They did this at the moment Kansas was getting some bad news about its economy.

The timing here is particularly interesting, as it highlights the inability of the tax-cut theologians in the Missouri Republican Party to allow facts to get in the way of their never-ending effort to please their biggest donors.

Kansas is no role model

On March 26, the Missouri Senate gave initial approval to Mr. Kraus’ Senate Bill 509, which would rob state revenue of about $620 million a year. Ironically, that’s about the same amount by which the state’s K-12 schools are underfunded.

The following day, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities issued a report studying the Kansas tax cuts that Missouri is trying to emulate. Here’s what it concluded, based on the simple math of Kansas’ various economic indicators:

“States considering deep tax cuts in hopes of sparking a surge of economic growth should look carefully at Kansas. That state’s massive tax cuts have created a large and growing revenue loss and forced further cuts in funding for schools and other public services that the state had already cut because of the recession.

"The tax plan also has widened inequality and raised taxes on the lowest-income families. Finally, a year after the cuts first took effect, the state’s economy is not performing particularly well, and there’s no evidence to suggest that the tax cuts will cause the economy to take off in the years ahead.”

Missouri Republicans, of course, pointed out that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a left-leaning think tank. So, even though math is politically neutral, they felt safe in ignoring the analysis. Missouri Republicans not only don’t trust science, they don’t trust math.

The next day brought a report from Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s very own Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers. The council’s March report showed that Kansas is lagging behind both the region and nation in nearly every major economic category.

Surprise, surprise. Kansas lawmakers, responding to the real-world effect of tax cuts they passed, already have raised sales taxes to try to make up for the loss of revenue. Now they’re struggling to fund schools.

Oklahoma is also in trouble

Having lost the “Be Like Kansas” argument, some lawmakers have changed comparisons, preferring to point to Oklahoma, which did cut some categories of taxes about a decade ago before experiencing some economic growth.

Never mind that Oklahoma has enjoyed a surge in oil and gas revenues that Missouri doesn’t have. Oklahoma has spent its money wisely on universal early childhood education, which both liberal and conservative economists point to as one of the best economic investments a state can make.

That’s trickle-up economics. Missouri prefers trickling down . . . and down . . . and down.

Still, the Oklahoma Legislature, after years of tax cuts, is facing its own economic troubles this year. The Tulsa World reports that the state anticipates a $188 million drop in state revenues next year.

Last week, thousands of educators in Oklahoma converged on the Capitol urging lawmakers to stop with the tax-cut madness, at least until schools were properly funded.

Bad news for Oklahomans: A state Senate panel there has decided to embrace the Missouri Plan for Economic Non-Development. Despite the drop in revenue, it passed a tax-cut plan.

Missouri’s nickname of the Show-Me State is most widely attributed to a speech made by U.S. Rep. Willard Duncan Vandiver in 1899: “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”

Missourians used to want proof. In Missouri, facts are supposed to matter more than words or intentions.

Not any more. When Missouri Republicans bury their heads in a pile of metaphorical cockleburs and ignore the evidence that their donors’ tax-cut fantasies simply don’t work, the state is no longer worthy of its proud nickname.

Copyright 2014 St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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