WHAT OTHERS SAY: A challenge to the Missouri GOP: Do the math

Friday, June 27, 2014 | 4:11 p.m. CDT

The Missouri Republican Party should have some rubber bracelets made up and pass them out. They should carry the message: “WWTJC?”

Where Would Tim Jones Cut?

On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, did what the state constitution requires of him. He balanced the budget by vetoing millions of dollars out of the unbalanced budget sent to him by the legislature.

Then he flexed his muscles. He withheld about $425 million more from next year’s budget as leverage. He wants to make sure the legislature doesn’t override his vetoes of several tax-cut bills passed by lawmakers on the last day of the session in May.

This is what governors do, be they Republicans or Democrats. Most states, unlike Congress, require balanced budgets. There is no dispute that Missouri’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year is out of balance.

Both Mr. Nixon and the legislature, led by Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-Eureka, and Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, the president pro tem of the Senate, overestimated the amount of economic growth expected in Missouri this year.

Both parties share the blame for that. They also share the blame for the anemic growth. Instead of investing in education during the past several years, they’ve thrown money at corporations in the form of tax handouts and tax cuts. They’ve bragged about Missouri’s incredibly low tax burden, among the very lowest in the nation.

The nitty-gritty of making tough choices and balancing budgets used to be right in the Republican wheel-house. Not anymore, not in Missouri anyway.

As Mr. Nixon balanced the budget, Republicans such as Mr. Jones said with no evidence that his math was off. They called the governor a hypocrite for withholding education funds.

Meanwhile, they ignored their own constitutional role to pass a balanced budget. They skipped over their orgy of tax-cutting on the session’s last day after previously passing a budget that didn’t account for revenue that would be lost by those cuts, dubbed by Mr. Nixon as the “Friday Favors.”

The arm of the legislature charged with doing the math on such legislation has now produced fiscal notes (cost estimates) on the 10 tax break bills vetoed by Mr. Nixon.

And guess what? With few exceptions, the legislative math matches that produced by the governor’s budget director, Linda Luebbering.

For instance, the governor’s office estimates that the sales tax cut for data centers — the biggest of the giveaways — would cost the state $108 million. The Legislative Oversight Division predicts the number is $107 million.

Somewhere between empty statements about “fuzzy math” and the $1.1 billion that Mr. Nixon has cut or withheld to balance the budget is the truth.

So the challenge to Republican lawmakers is simple: Show us your math.

First, figure out what the tax cut bills and resulting revenue loss actually does to the budget. Maybe you can justify a figure less than $1 billion, though it seems politically counter-intuitive that Republicans would want to position themselves as bigger spenders than a Democratic governor. But come up with a number.

Then tell us what you’d cut. Be specific. Sure, Mr. Nixon is withholding some education money to get superintendents and school boards and parents on the side of not overriding the vetoes of the Friday Favors.

Politics? You bet. But smart politics.

If lawmakers are serious about putting schools first, where would they cut? You want $1 billion out of Missouri’s budget without touching schools, you’ll have to close a prison and release felons. You’re gutting the State Patrol. You’re taking away grandma’s medicine and raising her rent.

Enough with the vacuous news releases and empty rhetoric. Either do the math or tell your constituents the truth: Missouri Republicans no longer believe in balanced budgets.

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

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