Your Opinion: Fund priorities before cutting taxes
Friday, February 21, 2014
Currently, there is debate between Missouri’s Republican Legislature and the governor over projected revenues. Regardless, before we repeat President Bush’s mistake made in 2001 when blessed with a federal surplus he immediately decided that tax cuts were more important than actually paying down our deficit; we must recognize that Missouri’s liabilities ignored or delayed must be met first.
Before we risk revenues, I would note three areas of need. Most importantly Missouri lost more than 2,800 teaching positions during the recession. Accepting the premise that an educated workforce is a critical piece in appealing to businesses deciding where to invest; we might accept this simple need as defining for our future economic success. And this is as it has always been for companies looking to invest: Is the labor force sufficiently educated to meet the needs of manufacturers and technologies of tomorrow? Education funding has also been Gov. Nixon’s stated priority before instituting renewed tax reduction proposals. Clearly education’s importance resonated with constituents and contributed to sustaining the governor’s veto of a similar tax cut proposal in the last session.
Second, there is a massive financial investment that we all recognize as also threatening our competitive ability and that is addressing our deteriorating infrastructure and especially I-70, many sections dating to the birth of the interstate system. The traffic on this roadway is geometrically above design plans. Designed to carry 12,000-18,000 in the rural sections, Missouri’s “main street” carries 31,000 vehicles plus as many as 13,000 trucks. At Wentzville near St. Louis, those figures are 45,000 vehicles plus 15,000 trucks.We cannot assume a surplus as long as that $2-4 billion project in current dollars awaits.
Finally, there is an oft-ignored liability that every level of government seems to ignore until it bites them. That is funding pension systems. Missouri currently funds its pension at 80 percent which, though better than the minimum expected to be viable, should be fully funded before revenues are diminished by tax cuts.
Further, the Hancock Amendment requiring all tax increases to be approved by popular vote is a structural impediment to correcting legislative actions reducing taxes. Theoretical revenue guarantees prior to implementation seem to be unnecessary complications when our education, infrastructure and our obligations to our state’s employees are at risk.
Pay our “bills” first.