Republicans are leading Missouri towards a budget crisis, and there’s little they can do to stop it

As talks begin over funding Missouri’s numerous government agencies, expect the same false dichotomy that surfaces every legislative session to rear its head once more. Leaders in the Missouri General Assembly will reply to requests for more funding from departments that need it with the simple, yet nuanced, response that there simply isn’t enough money in the budget to do so without cutting spending elsewhere. 

Despite our roads being ranked 8th-worst in the nation, salary for public school teachers ranking 43rd in the nation, our public defender system ranking 2nd -worst in the nation, and ranking 46th in the nation for higher education state funding per capita, Republican lawmakers do not seem to be too worried about our state’s fiscal health. They’re so unbothered, in fact, that they made the decision to cut taxes for corporations, as well as for those in the top individual income tax bracket, all within the last two years. 

As Republicans continue to cut taxes, they tell our state’s government agencies that there isn’t enough money to adequately fund them, as if they are not solely responsible for the lack of money in our budget. It’s insulting. 

To say that our elected officials’ priorities are misplaced would be an understatement. While universities struggle to stay afloat, some lawmakers thought it would be appropriate to threaten funding to the University of Missouri this past spring over Chancellor Agrawal’s response to a protest of conservative transphobe Michael Knowles’ event on UMKC’s campus. For anyone wondering what Knowles is up to these days, he recently came under fire for calling 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg a “mentally ill Swedish child.” (Thunberg has publicly acknowledged being on the autism spectrum.) While the idea to cut funding was ultimately abandoned, the fact that it was even suggested in the first place is disappointing. 

Of course, there are more options than maintaining current funding levels or cutting from one department to fund a different one. However, even if Republicans found the courage to stand up to big business interests and reverse their tax cuts, an obscure amendment to Missouri’s Constitution would get in their way. Known as the Hancock Amendment, it requires all tax increases to be put to a statewide vote, even if the “increase” is reversing a previous tax cut. While the Hancock Amendment requires voter approval for tax increases, it does not require the same of tax cuts. 

This is where the root of Missouri’s budget crisis stems from. The decision to raise or lower taxes is a complicated one that demands expertise, something our elected officials and their staff are supposed to provide. Lawmakers should have the authority to raise taxes without the need for voter approval. At the end of the day, voters get to review their elected official’s decisions and determine for themselves if they deserve reelection. By requiring every tax increase to be put to a referendum, the Hancock Amendment effectively kneecaps any attempt at responsible legislating. 

Is it controversial to suggest that voters shouldn’t have to approve every single tax increase through a referendum? Maybe. But during my time lobbying on behalf of UMKC’s student body, I learned from lawmakers firsthand that yes, the Hancock Amendment makes raising revenue exponentially harder. Would these lawmakers come out and say in public what they were willing to explain to me in private? Probably not, because to do so might hurt their political ambitions. 

Then again, some things ought to be more important than reelection.

brandon.henderson@mail.umkc.edu

1 Comment

  1. Dorene

    October 20, 2019 at 11:12 AM

    It is my opinion the Democratic party needs to get to the point on stories. Many voters will not take the time to read long winded stories.

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