Revenue helps look after the land

Sales tax pays for upkeep in state parks and soil conservation, but some say the tax is regressive.
Tuesday, August 1, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:14 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008


The tunnel that gives Rock Bridge Memorial State Park its name has been closed since parts of the rock bridge fell June 9. Repair work on it is just one of the many projects that are funded by the state. In the past year, the park has spent about $16,000 on capital improvements on the rock bridge. (ANDREW B. CHURCH/ Missourian)

Parks-and-soil tax?

If we were to receive an itemized list of the sales tax we pay every time we buy something in Missouri, it’s hard to imagine a more obtuse line on the receipt.

But fans of the statewide tax that generates about $82 million per year say it’s crucial to two of Missouri’s largest industries: tourism and agriculture. If we didn’t pay the extra penny on every $100 we spent, they say, our state parks would be in disarray and the soil that makes our farms so productive would simply wash into and pollute our creeks and rivers.

The tax — one-tenth of a cent on the dollar — has existed since 1984 and provides much of the money used to maintain and operate our state parks. And it’s the primary source of cash for soil-conservation projects that have spared farmland in a state where annual soil erosion once ranked second in the country.

Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman is so convinced these efforts are important that he’s voluntarily chairing a statewide committee promoting a proposed renewal of the tax, which appears as Amendment 1 on the Aug. 8 ballot. Even Bill Samuels, one of the most ardent foes of sales tax you could find in Boone County, thinks this one is good enough to vote for. Still, there are those who argue it’s so much of a burden on the poor that the state should find another source of cash.

If voters approve Amendment 1, the tax will be extended 10 years. If they don’t, it will end in November 2008. No one has planned for the latter, probably because almost two-thirds of Missouri voters have chosen to renew the tax twice.

“It goes back to the ballot every 10 years,” said Estil Fretwell of the Missouri Farm Bureau. “Though it would make it easier if that didn’t happen, our position is that we want to bring this back to the people and be accountable for how we use the tax. We want to give the people the opportunity to decide.”

If voters change their minds, however, people in state government will be scratching their heads.

“Boy, I’m not sure what will happen or what they plan on doing if this doesn’t pass,” said Jim Gast, superintendent of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park.

Maintaining state parks

It’s a pleasant spring afternoon after a stressful week at work. Your spouse wants to spend the day outdoors, and your children want to play. You know just the thing to do: Spend a day at a nearby state park, enjoying nature and quiet quality time.

But your arrival brings disappointment. Despite the pricey fee you paid at the entrance booth, you find the parking lot full of potholes. You carry your picnic basket and cooler through tall grass and ticks, looking for a table with legs that aren’t rotting. Trails lead your family through endless litter and underneath downed trees. Playgrounds, if functional, are rusty and filthy.

Of course, that’s not what happens in Missouri’s state park system. But Sue Holst imagines it could if Amendment 1 fails and the state fails to replace the revenue. A spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Holst is concerned about the possibility of failure but concedes there is no Plan B.

“We don’t really have an idea,” Holst said of an alternate funding source. “Probably general revenue, but it would be tough because a lot of people and agencies are competing for that. I can’t imagine we would ever be funded at the same level.

“I don’t know what would happen.”

As it stands, the parks-and-soil tax provides 75 cents of every dollar the state spends to run its state parks, which are revered around the nation. Missouri features 140,000 acres of state parks and 900 miles of trails. More than 17 million people visit them every year. Leo Drey, who privately owns more land than anyone in the state, recently donated another 61,000 acres — the Roger Pryor Backcountry — to the L-A-D Foundation in honor of another prominent environmental activist. Missouri state parks provides access and maintains the backcountry.

State parks are fun and important to the environment, but they’re also an economic engine. A 2002 MU study showed that park visitors pumped about $538 million into the state economy that year, supporting 7,660 jobs.

“These are just jobs related to people going to state parks, like the gas pumpers for these people or the person at the grocery store checking out hot dogs for visitors,” Holst said.

The tax makes a big difference in how the parks look and work, DNR representatives say. In the past two years alone, the agency has extended electricity to more than 450 campsites, and it has improved water and sewage systems in 30 state parks.

Gast noted that the state spends a good chunk of the parks money here in Boone County.

“We spent about $16,000 on capital improvements this year when Rock Bridge replaced two bridges on the trail and relocated the playground. And we will have to do some boardwalk repairs as a result of the rock bridge sloughing off,” he said, referring to a recent natural problem with the park’s namesake feature.

Gast said the tax also provided $30,000 for the Katy Trail in Boone and adjacent counties last year. The money paid for resurfacing the trail and replacing culverts.

The 1,128-acre Finger Lakes State Park, which attracts 209,000 to northern Boone County each year, also fares well. The tax made it possible to develop 36 campsites, nearly half with electricity; about 70 miles of off-road vehicle trails; and a motocross area that’s unique in Missouri state parks.

Rock Bridge has 15 miles of trails within its 2,273 acres and attracts 250,000 visitors per year. The only program the public must pay for is cave tours. That might change, Gast said, if the parks-and-soil tax is rejected.

“We do well with giving programs to the public, and we are constantly rated excellent. … We bring a lot of people here,” Gast said. “We give bat tours, tours of the Devil’s Ice Box, we offer mile-hike programs and wildflower walks. We bring a lot of people here.”

Gast said the three state parks and the historic site in Boone County, Rock Bridge, Finger Lakes, a portion of the Katy Trail, and William Jewell Cemetery State Historic Site generate about $7.3 million in tourism money ever year. Maintenance of the Katy Trail, Jewell Ceme­tery and Clark’s Hill/Norton State Historic Site is provided by Rock Bridge Memorial State Park.

“We have people coming here (from) as far away as California and Ontario to the Devil’s Icebox Cave, and they’re spending money once they come,” Gast said.

Protecting waterways from erosion

State parks get only half the money generated by the tax. The other half, by law, goes toward programs intended to preserve the state’s waterways and soil. Advocates say that affects Missourians more than they know.

Agriculture pumps $5 billion into the state’s economy each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Projects that protect the land and water help ensure that contribution.

“You need to stop soil loss so you maintain agricultural productivity for future generations,” said Keith Schnarre, who grows wheat, corn and soybeans on more than 2,000 acres near Centralia and happens to be Boone County’s presiding commissioner. He’s owned his farm since 1975 and makes regular use of soil-tax money.

Schnarre uses soil-tax money mostly for terracing and waterway projects, in cooperation with the DNR-affiliated Boone County Soil and Water Conservation District. Everything the tax helps him do is targeted toward preserving soil and streams, he said.

“Without this tax, Missouri would not have near the soil loss down that it does,” Schnarre said. “It’s put Missouri in the forefront of other states because we do get funds for these practices.”

In the past five years, about $68,900 of the sales tax has funded the projects on Schnarre’s land. He taps the DNR’s cost-share program, which requires landowners to fund at least 25 percent of projects to preserve soil and water and reimburses them for the rest. Cost-shares are the biggest use of soil-tax proceeds.

“We spend about $20 million annually on the cost-share program,” DNR environmental specialist Jim Boschert said. “It’s by far the one we run the most.”

Brian Lease, a five-year member of the Boone County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Directors, also participates in the cost-share program. It’s helped him rotate his livestock and build fences that keep cattle away from streams.

“The cost-share program is a win-win situation,” he said. “With what we make anymore out here on the land, it’s marginal. It really helps us defer costs and implement soil-saving processes.”

Farmers are prohibited from altering or removing approved conservation projects. Landowners must submit cost-share applications, which are reviewed by the six-member Soil and Water Districts Commission, a body appointed by the governor. Each of Missouri’s 114 counties also has a board. Boone County board members are Chairman Craig Clark, Stephanie Smith, Kevin Martz, Dan Day and Lease.

Lease said there’s about a one-year waiting list for cost-share applications in Boone County. He hopes if the tax is renewed to do projects with farmers who have less land.

“The way Boone County is urbanizing, it’s important we get out and talk to people with smaller tracts of land,” he said. “Right now, it’s first-come, first-served.”

Soil taxes also go toward the Special Area Land Treatment Program, which are projects that reduce pollution from unidentifiable sources such as animal waste, pesticide runoff, overgrazing and other “nonpoint” sources. There are 68 ongoing SALT projects in Missouri.

Altogether, Missouri spent $230 million between 1998 and 2006 on soil- and water-conservation programs. It spent about $1.85 million of that in Boone County.

Before the parks-and-soil tax, Missouri had the second highest rate of erosion among the 50 states. In the 13 years since the tax was put into place, the state’s erosion rate dropped faster than any in the nation. Since 1984, Missouri has cut erosion in half and saved more than 148 million tons of soil, according to the Agriculture Department.

Debating taxation

Few would argue that state parks and soil conservation are bad things, but there are those who think Missouri is doing the right thing the wrong way.

Robin Acree, executive director of Grass Roots Organizing, is one.

“Sales taxes are regressive,” she said. “The less you earn, the higher the tax is.”

Acree said there are more equitable ways to pay even for causes as important as the environment. She blames the General Assembly for the status quo.

“The legislature should be doing their job,” she said. “If it’s renewed, this tax will go on for another 10 years. That’s almost a billion dollars — a lot of money.”

Mary Hussmann, lead organizer with GRO, argues the state should quit relying on sales tax and “beating down on the working poor.”

Lease, however, called the tax rate “a drop in the bucket.”

“This isn’t just for agriculture but for everybody,” he said.

And Hindman said city dwellers benefit from the tax just as much as farmers.

“When it comes down to soil and water conservation, cities benefit from an adequate food supply that’s coming from rural areas and clean water for health and nutritional reasons,” he said.

Samuels, the Columbia attorney who’s made a name for himself by fighting sales tax, makes an exception on Amendment 1.

“The basic idea of soil conservation is very important,” he said. “For one thing, the U.S. is the third most populous country in the world behind China and India. We may need greater food production in the future, so the quality of soil is a very important thing. … It’s possible it could affect people in all kinds of ways.”

“It’s a tough call because it’s a very good thing,” Samuels said. “The funding mechanism is unfair, and I would prefer a more equitable method of finance, but it’s something we really need.”

Recepients of soil conservation sales tax

Below are the recepients of the soil conservation sales tax in the Boone County Soil and Conservation District from 2001 to 2006. The total tax money is the money that the cost-share program reimbursed individual land owners over certain years within the past five years.

People Reimbursements from tax (2001-06) Years received
Jerry Mcbee $7,784.40 2001, 2003
Greg Buckman $6,368.80 2001, 2003
Victoria Heller $1,889.29 2001
Everett Little $1,864.81 2001
Karen McBride $4,804.10 2001, 2004
Billy Ray $1,001.48 2001
James Lloyd Sapp $1,934.10 2001
Walnut Hills Farm $7,286.46 2001, 2004
Roland Hudson $5,049.08 2001, 2002
Clifford Inscore $3,917.96 2001
Bob Woods $2,594.92 2001
Ronald Spaudlin $5433.09 2001, 2003
Dave Thomas $4,131.67 2001
Spencer Wegener $6,623.04 2001, 2002
James Bullard $4,561.78 2001
c/o Greg Judy $1,794.00 2001
Steve Glass $1,677.85 2001
Greg Judy $8,571.36 2001
Brian Lease $5,070.97 2001, 2003
Eugene Arens $7,543.53 2001, 2002
Joe Baumgartner $1,448.91 2001
Wayne Schneller $12210.32 2001, 2002
Jared Thornhill $3,867.23 2001
Tracy Twaddle $3,891.75 2001
Bernice Haid $3,951.47 2001
Frank Martin $13,531.42 2001, 2002, 2005
Keith Schnarre $68,900.06 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006
Leon Swiney $22,053.01 2001, 2002
Larry Metcalf $2,064.36 2002, 2003
George Hobson $473.96 2002
Mike McGowan $5,229.61 2002, 2006
James E. Grant $8,192.94 2002
Dennis Schnell $1,110.80 2002
Vernon Family Revocable Trust $2,537.95 2002
Raymond Keil $9,648.08 2002
Gary Riedel $58,239.94 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006
John Selby $18,493.00 2002
M. W. Sorenson $4,606.04 2002, 2004
Hugh Williams $11,304.16 2002, 2004, 2005
Jeff Baxter $950.56 2002
Gary Morrison $21,441.07 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005
Larry Oetting $2,339.56 2002
Buckler Family Farm $8,250.00 2002
Tim Hall $2,417.49 2002
William Heffernan $14,260.99 2002, 2006
Richard Lewis $6,085.36 2002
Mike Phelen $7,667.46 2002
Mike Rawlings $6.296.51 2002
Opal Rippeto $8,250.00 2002
Tom Satalowich $3,293.21 2002
Mark Schlemper $3,564.34 2002
Kevin Yeager $6,990.56 2002
J Louis Crum Corporation $4,113.61 2002
Virgil Gardner $600.33 2002, 2005
Lynne Woods Turner and Terri Woods Starman $6,222.85 2002
Willis W. Smith $958.77 2002
Gene Cunningham $10,302.98 2002, 2003
Gonnerman Trust $3,542.69 2002
Mona Militzer $2,923.25 2002
Linda Schultz $2,868.25 2002
Clifton Nahler $7,078.94 2002, 2005
Karla Lenger $1,824.34 2003. 2004
Neal Meyer $495.67 2003
Ernest Shields $2,130.79 2003
Lucie Martin & W. T. Meador $22,683.97 2003
Vicki South $26,576.61 2003
Robert Short $2,423.77 2003
Bob Woods & Robert Shaw $7,281.07 2003
Bobb Glen & Marshall Glenn $8,285.62 2003
William Dale Clark $6,042.65 2003
Curtis Fay $11,859.65 2003, 2004, 2005
John Glenn $1,035.28 2003
Bud Holiman $6,448.05 2003
Donald Osburn $1,005.62 2003
David O. Thomas $10,611.64 2003, 2004
Wegenerland $6,136.49 2003, 2004
John Nichols $691.57 2003
Nola M. Metcalf $649.70 2003
Craig Clark $15,480.36 2003, 2006
Brook Dawson $3,323.02 2003
Gary Fisher $6,592.85 2003
Mary Fitch $14,388.79 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006
Mark Perkins $8,250.00 2003
Russel Schoen $3,544.69 2003
Pat Sekerski $2,651.52 2003
Susan Skinner $5,377.18 2003
Virginia Sparks $2,723.56 2003
Mikal Thornhill $16,989.84 2003, 2004
Donald Collins $1,274.52 2003
John Lorentzen Jr. $14,744.26 2003, 2006
Pierce Family Trust $2,555.86 2003
Becky Rosenfelder $4,319.80 2004
Marty Bowne $12,000 2004
Butler Family Farms, LLC $2,144.92 2004
Kenneth Martin $9,679.29 2004
Agribusiness S.L.P. $32,603.34 2004, 2005, 2006
Associated Electric Company $5,137.57 2004
Wesley Stemme $5,955.73 2004
John Ernst $5,487,79 2004, 2005
Mike Curry $8,018.18 2004
Sean Huggans $4.250.13 2004
James Boillot $7,581.30 2004
Ronna Chrisman $6,980.44 2004
Richard Collins $2,588.36 2004
Troy Douglass $8,250.00 2004
Ersel Lawman Trust $1,445.12 2004
Brian Lockwood $4,145.39 2004
Henry Logan $3,806.02 2004
Charles A. Martin $3,817.23 2004
Georgia Mongler $5,088.15 2004
Vern Pierce $2,253.16 2004
John Stafford $3,932.26 2004, 2006
Mike Stichnote $2,973.58 2004
Mark Zacher $2,302.56 2004
Susan Dobson $2,447.66 2004
Jeanie Morrison $5,289.33 2004
Fred Martz $1,127.06 2004
Peter Orr $1,113.66 2004
Dan Judy $740.10 2005
Ben Voeller $3,064.98 2005, 2006
Bobb Glenn $4,403.63 2005
H Janell Woods Trust $9,495.03 2005
James Kassenbaum $9,731.31 2005, 2006
Richard Moore $29,315.30 2005, 2006
Chalapthi Pendurthi $8,628.60 2005
Pivot LLC $5,975.95 2005
James D. Grant $5,490.97 2005
Karen McBride Kinkeade $3,023.80 2005, 2006
Darrell Buckler $6,792.48 2005
Wesley Colyer $3,842.48 2005
Raymond Exner $6,044.57 2005
David Horner $2,674.48 2005
Robert Reeves $7,556.30 2005
Eric J. Schafer $8,136.70 2005
Josh Spry $7,313.54 2005
Dan Benne $31,425.84 2005, 2006
Winona Dudley $781.82 2006
Knipp Farm LLC $2,775.48 2006
Ollie Mae Knipp Charitable Remainder Trust $1,463.64 2006
Bill Folk $10,855.33 2006
Jerry L. French Trust $7,644.94 2006
Jack Overton $7,585.21 2006
James Schulte $27,419.25 2006
Robert Clay Keyton $5,446.13 2006
Holly Orr Monroe $14,495.65 2006
Rebecca Benedict $8,115.27 2006
Bettina H. Bass Revocable Trust $5,495.63 2006
Dennis Blakemore $8,250.00 2006
Robert McConnel $8,250.00 2006
David Schlemeyer $4,680.97 2006
Ralph R. Anderson Revoc Trust $5,470.63 2006
John P. Lorentzen III $3,934.77 2006

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