Missouri Legislators Debating Override of Income Tax Bill Veto

September 11, 2013

Missouri’s legislature is in veto session today, holding override votes on a number of bills vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon (D). Among them is House Bill 253, the state’s first income tax cut in 90 years. As we covered when the legislature enacted it, the bill would:

  • Lowers individual income tax top rate from 6 percent to 5.5 percent over ten years and reduces the number of brackets from ten to nine. The rate would go down an additional one-half percentage point if Congress enacts the Marketplace Fairness Act.
  • Reduces the corporate income tax rate from 6.25 percent to 3.25 over the next decade.
  • Enacts a 50 percent business pass-through income deduction between 2014 to 2018, and
  • Increases the personal income tax deduction for low-income individuals in 2014.

The bill would reduce revenue by approximately $700 million (it’s hard to calculate, given the moving parts), although the phased-in reductions are only triggered if revenue exceeds the size of the cut. Governor Nixon is rallying support to sustain his veto, saying the bill is “dramatically defunding education.” An allied legislator speaking on the floor just said the tax cuts are “massive.” The New York Times editorial board today called the cuts “ruinous.” (They also strangely said that cutting taxes during a weak economy is “a losing strategy.”)

Interestingly, both sides are framing the debate in terms of economic growth. The Governor and his allies say education (well, technically, spending money on education) is what matters for economic growth. The legislative proponents say that tax and regulatory climate is what matters for economic growth. Obviously, they’re both important, so a lot of the rhetoric is over-the-top. All told, Missouri spends $13.7 billion on education ($3.6 billion on higher education, $9.4 billion on K-12), and while I’m not a Missouri legislator, it’s comes across as over-the-top to me to say a half-point income tax cut phased in glacially over ten years will destroy all that.

There’s also quite a few legislators attacking provisions of the bill that centralize sales tax administration and eliminate sales tax carveouts on a number of items (“it’s a tax on textbooks!”); one Republican on the House floor is gleefully pointing out that is something that most Democrats co-sponsored as recently as this legislative session. (“I didn’t know that was in there,” weakly replied one Democrat on the floor.) The list of local sales taxes runs 53 pages, so it’s unfortunate that some are demonizing this worthy and formerly bi-partisan administrative change.

That said, the bill is not perfect. The bill does nothing about the state income tax’s ten tax brackets that top out at just $9,000. That a minimum-wage earner has already gone through ten tax brackets is absurd, a relic of 1931 when the law was first past. The bill also creates a new 50 percent income tax carveout for business income, a problematic trend started in neighboring Kansas. Ten years is a long time to phase in tax changes, creating uncertainty about what the law will be.

Missouri is not a high-tax state, but it’s in a low-tax region and that can’t be forgotten. The economy is not doing well, and even if education was the silver bullet, that will take a generation to manifest itself. Regardless of what happens today in the veto session, I hope Missouri legislators don’t give up working for a better state tax system.

UPDATE: Tax reform bill veto override failed 94 to 67 (needs 109 to override).

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