Missouri Senator Resists New Targeted Tax Incentives in 20-Hour Filibuster

July 15, 2010

Someone get Missouri Sen. Chuck Purgason (R) a cup of hot tea. Sen. Purgason yesterday relinquished the floor after a 20-hour filibuster attempting to halt a package of new tax incentives for auto manufacturers:

Purgason, R-Caulfield, said the incentives plan is the wrong approach to economic development. He said broad-based tax cuts for small businesses would do more for Missouri’s economy than tax breaks targeted for specific big businesses.

To get the bill to the Senate floor, leaders stripped Purgason of a committee chairmanship that he’d used to block the bill. That did not stop him.

Purgason read aloud from e-mails and books, and discussed the history of the American colonial opposition to the British leading up to the Boston Tea Party, which he said included frustration that a company lobbied the government for a tax break to unfairly compete.

Purgason, who is running for the U.S. Senate, has tried to draw support from the contemporary tea party movement.

I have nothing against auto manufacturing, and I’m guessing neither does Sen. Purgason or a handful of allies who helped him out during the debate. But targeted tax incentives are an example of government using the tax code to pick winners and losers, rather than just raise revenue in the least distortive way possible.

Such incentives that single out politically-connected industries for favorable treatment are common, and usually underperform relative to their claims. If a state’s tax system is a restraint on economic growth, then the solution should be to fix the tax system, not just waive it for a privileged few.

In the end, the Senate passed the bill 20-7 and the House 101-40. Gov. Jay Nixon (D), who had called for the incentives package, signs the bill into law today.


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