The four highest ranking Majority Party leaders issued a joint statement on April 15th, saying that the Missouri General Assembly will reconvene in late April in a way that will balance the health and safety of lawmakers, employees and Capitol visitors during COVID-19 public health emergency with the legislature’s constitutional obligation to pass the state budget. According to the statement:
“The decision to move forward on April 27th was not an easy one; however, it is absolutely critical for the people of Missouri that we keep the state government funded and services operating without interruption. We will use the intervening time to monitor the trajectory of Missouri’s coronavirus cases as well as assess the impact of newly issued federal guidance and disaster funds on the state budget.”
Empower Missouri is a state level partner with the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) which has been working long-hours throughout the pandemic to analyze the stimulus packages and proposals about potential federal tax changes. We appreciate the decades of expertise that ITEP brings to this conversation and their focus on policy alternatives that would help households with low and moderate incomes. Unfortunately, past policy choices have fueled income inequality, especially disparities that correlate to race/ethnicity.
Missouri has similar tax policy decisions to make. Will we continue our outdated, unfair and inadequate personal income tax system, where our top tax bracket starts at $8,559 of taxable income? We have structured ourselves to fail as a state through our failure to update that system, when combined with the Hancock Amendment to our state constitution, passed in 1980. Hancock places restrictions on the amount of personal income used to fund state government, and the amount by which fees and taxes can be increased. Following two decades of top-down tax cuts, the Missouri Auditor’s last report showed Missouri $3.9 billion below our revenue caps.
There is an old adage: When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. If Missouri is going to dig itself out of the crisis we are in as revenues steeply decline due to the pandemic, our General Assembly must debate policy alternatives such as these:
- Pass the “Wayfair Fix” – Presently brick and mortar businesses throughout Missouri have to collect sales taxes from customers, but out-of-state online retailers do not. While those of us who shop online technically owe the sales tax to Missouri, very few of us actually track the purchases and make the payments. The Wayfair Fix would level the playing field and strengthen the income side of our state budget.
- Provide a bottom-up tax cut to working families through a Missouri Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This could help as many as 494,000 Missouri families pay for basic necessities like child care, rent, work clothing, car repairs and other essentials
- Pass the Tax Justice for a Healthy Missouri progressive income tax reform bill from Rep. Judy Morgan (District 24, Kansas City). Her legislation contains the following positive benefits:
- It modernizes our tax table which was frozen at $9,000 of taxable income as the starting place for the top tax bracket from 1931 to 2017 and now starts at only $8,559.
- It reduces taxes on average for the bottom 60% of Missourians through updated brackets that are indexed for inflation and a refundable tax credit of $200 per person per household (phasing out at $50,000 per year for singles and $80,000 per year for married filing jointly).
- It creates a more fair tax system by requiring the wealthiest 20% of Missourians to pay an amount as a percentage of their incomes closer to the amount paid by the bottom 80% now.
- It raises nearly a billion dollars in much-needed revenue – upon voter approval – funds needed for education, public health, and other essential programs and services.
May our General Assembly find the courage to discuss solutions such as these in the difficult days that lie ahead. Empower Missouri and ITEP stand ready to provide our assistance.
Jeanette Mott Oxford
Executive Director/Director of Policy & Organizing