It was late in 1980, as I recall. The Missouri Bar was holding a seminar for newly-elected legislators and one of the sessions was intended to teach the incoming lawmakers how to deal with the media. Part of the seminar involved picking some of them and having a member of the Capitol press corps interview them so they knew that they would likely deal with a different animal than the local newspaper editor or the local radio or television reporter that didn’t know much about the kinds of things Capitol reporters pursue. One of the newbies was Dennis Smith, a Representative-elect from Springfield. I think he has forgiven me for what I did to him that day but he has never forgotten it.
In the same election in which Smith and the other newbies were chosen, Missourians put a formula into the Missouri Constitution limiting the amount of taxes the state could collect. It did some other things, too, but the tax limitation is what the Hancock Amendment is known for.
Representative-elect Smith supported the Hancock Amendment and since one of the things he and his colleagues are constitutionally-mandated to do is pass a state budget, he became fair game for a reporter who covers the budget process.
In our pretend interview in front of the entire freshman legislative class, I asked him, as a Hancock Amendment supporter, to use the formula to calculate how much the next state budget should be.
He didn’t have a clue and the rest of his colleagues in the room enjoyed his discomfort no end.
The memory of that event sauntered into my mind when reading a news release from State Auditor Tom Schweich, whose office periodically checks the formula and calculates how close state revenue is to exceeding the Hancock limit.
A person who follows state government from a distance might be fooled by the legislature’s frantic push for tax cuts into thinking that the state is approaching the Hancock limit and must backpedal like crazy to avoid exceeding it.
Far from it, says Auditor Schweich. Missouri is $3.9 billion below the limit established by Hancock.
But that figure does not blunt our legislators’ enthusiasm to get us even more below Hancock and adding to the $3.9 billion dollars they’re already letting us keep and spend in ways that we know are better than the government knows.
Why stop at 3.9? To hear the Nixon administration argue in defense of the veto of HB253, the legislature wanted to make that figure more like $5.1 billion and the governor isn’t going to let them do it. He seems to think funds are needed for programs and services that benefit six million Missourians, not just a few who are hoping for a veto override in September because they will benefit.
It’s already a beautiful world, then, for those who favor letting taxpayers keep more of their own money, and the world will be absolutely gorgeous if the veto can be overridden in September.
And Heaven knows we need to be able to keep more money that would go to state taxes in own pockets because student loans our children had to take out to get the higher education that has seen drastically reduced state support have to be paid off. And that $650 per capita that we are allowed to keep this year will make a ding in that debt. Not a dent. Just a ding. And that $650 is helping us pay higher local elementary and secondary school tax rates because the state is $620 million dollars behind the in the school funding formula our elected representatives enacted almost a decade ago. And that $650 helps us pay penny after penny of sales taxes to finance things like the county sheriffs’ budgets that struggle each year because the state doesn’t pay all of the costs counties incur while they house state prisoners. And we might need that $650 in our pockets if the circuit breaker tax credit is eliminated so we can pay our rent.
We have dragged you, reader friend, to this point in this post today and we’re darned if we know what the conclusion to this should be. And that probably somewhat defines why the people on the third floor of the Capitol and the guy on the second floor aren’t together on a tax policy.
Or maybe not.