Audrey Spalding
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board is urging Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to stall the awarding of state tax credits. Why? Missouri is facing an estimated budget shortfall of $500 million, a number very close to annual state tax credit awards. As the Post editorial points out, tax credits for corporate welfare have grown unabated while funding for schools has been cut.

Tax credit reform is difficult. We saw that during the last legislative session, and during the Tax Credit Review Commission's hearings (beneficiaries of state tax credits tend to fight hard to keep their credits). And those interested in benefiting from a new tax credit program seem to fight almost even harder to establish a new program.

Perhaps more difficult for politicians is the fact that tax credit reform does not cut cleanly along party lines. Some Republican legislators strongly support tax credit reform, while others oppose it — just as some Democrat legislators strongly support reform, while others oppose it (or even advocate for the creation of new programs).

I disagree with the Post's rosy optimism that Nixon will act responsibly. Our governor has a history of waffling on tax credit reform, something my colleagues at the Show-Me Institute have documented repeatedly. He also seemingly likes to travel to announce the "creation" of jobs under questionable state tax incentive programs. Personally, I would pin tax credit reform hopes on legislators.

Did you know a single committee might have the power to vote to halt some tax credit programs this year?

According to state law, "...no new tax credits, except the senior citizens property tax credit...shall be issued or certified...unless the estimate of such credits have been reviewed and approved by a majority of the senate appropriations committee and house budget committee."

If a majority of either the Missouri House or Senate committees referenced vote to not approve one or more of the more egregious tax credit program estimates (and there are several), then perhaps no money would be issued for those programs this year.  Under this scenario, the daunting challenge of convincing many legislators who may have constituents and contributors who benefit greatly from tax credit programs seems to be reduced.

It is time for legislators to put the needs of Missouri taxpayers ahead of their own political concerns. Concerns about party politics should not dictate the budget solutions pursued in 2012.

The state is facing a budget shortfall of hundreds of millions — perhaps approximately $500 million. Defunding a few of the more wasteful tax credit programs could certainly help address that. And it may be easier to do than some may think.

About the Author

Audrey Spalding