JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
That quote, often attributed to Winston Churchill, was the sentiment shared by former Sen. Jason Crowell while speaking about the state’s current tax environment as he advocated for changing the state’s economic development programs.
“This process was a reminder of how complex and inefficient our tax code had become,” former Sen. John Lamping said.
While many have openly questioned the way the committee was structured to limit any dissenting views of the Governor’s to the woefully low attendance after weeks of testimony the Committee is nearly ready to deliver their report that many feel was basically written before the committee gaveled in.
With one of the committee’s rare quorum in attendance, the committee voted in favor of allowing Chairman Joel Walters to draft a document, which counsel would then deliver to the committee members to make final revisions to before submitting their final report to Gov. Eric Greitens before the June 31st deadline. However, some critics of the committee say the report has already been completed, and that the decisions on what to do have already been made.
Since the committee’s first meeting back in March, members have heard testimony from more than a dozen different groups and experts, as well as members of the public and business communities in the four town hall meetings.
The committee members on Monday spoke about what they had identified as successful areas for Missouri, as well as areas in which they perceived needed changes.
Most of the government employees on the commission advocated new ways to increase taxes flowing into the bureaucracy.
Sen. Dan Hegeman addressed the committee first, saying that he appreciated the testimonies they had heard, and saying that at one point, he was ready to declare the historic tax credits a victory and see them go away, but that after hearing testimony, he was pleased to see some of the success from the program.
He noted that the historic tax credits and low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC), like most of the committee members, seemed to be the programs that needed the most attention. Indeed, it seems that those two areas are primed to be hit the hardest in the report. Previous weeks of testimony on those particular issues, especially on the low-income housing tax credits, proved to be less than hoped for by supporters of LIHTC and historic tax credits.
“I’m a big believer that we need to do more than just haircuts,” Sen. Will Kraus agreed. “Low income and historic tax credits are an area I’ve been looking at for awhile, not eliminating them, but making them more efficient while accomplishing the same goals.”
But Rep. Elijah Haahr also reminded his fellow committee members that it was their duty to be diligent, saying that they were not the first committee that has looked into these issues, and that it was important for the committee to look at where the previous ones fell short.
The two former senators, Lamping and Crowell, had much to say about Missouri’s taxes, especially the tax credits.
“Special interests have been able to significantly carve out in those programs,” Lamping said. “I don’t know how much they really benefit Missouri as a whole. My hope that this will be a good blueprint for the general assembly. I’m optimistic, but I don’t want to get too far ahead.”
“When you rob Peter to pay Paul, you’re always going to have Paul’s support,” Crowell said in regard to the state’s economic development programs. “I think putting out a blueprint in almost a white paper resources is something that is very important that we do. But I will not hold my breath that it would pass the general assembly. The administration has to know all of the levers it has at its disposal, and who the governor appoints will have just as big an impact as what we do here.”
“We’re spending too much on this, and it’s unusual and wrong that it doesn’t go through the appropriations process. Legislators need to be able to say where it goes,” Rep. Holly Rehder said.
“It’s time for Missouri to confront the fact that expending money through credits is the equivalent of the appropriations process,” Scharf said.
In the end, the committee wrapped up with comments from Chairman Joel Walters, who stressed the need to find the right balance: a fair tax environment for citizens that still allows for economic growth.
“Interestingly, it’s easier to do something big and bold than to do something around the edges. Now is the time to think boldly,” he told the committee members.
Benjamin Peters was a reporter for The Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine and also produced the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined The Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield.