Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Keep the Sales Tax Cut Simple

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Keep the Sales Tax Cut Simple

Article excerpt

Gov. Mel Carnahan's proposal to cut Missouri's sales tax on food by 3 cents has always made sense, financially and from a public policy perspective. The House passed a clean bill relatively early in the legislative session; now, the Senate has muddied up the issue by trimming the sales-tax reduction to just 2 cents and adding a number of other tax benefits. Included is a bad idea that could kill the entire bill - tax deductions for parents who send their children to private and parochial schools. House and Senate conferees who will write the final bill should make sure that provision does not survive.

Behind the entire tax-cut effort is the Hancock Amendment, which limits state revenue based on the growth of Missourians' personal revenue. With the state enjoying good financial times, refunds estimated at $230 million would have to be paid. About the same amount is generated by the 3-cent state sales tax on food. By eliminating it, collecting the extra money in the first place could be avoided, and a break could go to everyone, particularly lower-income families who spend a larger percentage of their wages on food.

The House saw the logic in that argument and passed the 3-cent tax cut by itself. By the time the Senate finished with the bill last week, the food-tax reduction had shrunk to 2 cents. Going along with it were a wide range of tax breaks that turned a clean bill into a grabbag designed for special interests, including people who receive pensions, college students, contributors to domestic violence shelters and maternity homes. No one was even sure how much the tax breaks totaled by the time the senators were finished, but it went far beyond the Hancock refund amount, to cut into a budget that isn't exactly lavish in the first place. The worst idea by far was the proposal of Sen. John Schneider of Florissant for a deduction of up to $2,500 for parents who send their children to private or parochial high schools. Supporters paint the vote as a victory for religious liberty, a triumph over what Sen. …

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