"We need help." That statement Tuesday by David Lewis, a member of Missouri's senior community, echoes the sentiment of many seniors across the state who have driven to the state Capitol for bills in favor of tax relief for seniors.
Lewis' comment came during a House committee hearing on House Joint Resolution 44, which aims to provide what he describes as "much-needed" tax relief to the seniors of Missouri.
The proposed resolution is similar to other bills being considered in the state Senate and House intending to provide tax relief to seniors.
The Special Committee on Tax Reform on Tuesday heard similar discussion last week in considering HJR 45, proposed by Rep. Ben Keathley, R-Chesterfield.
"This resolution would put forth to the voters a dollar amount freeze on what senior citizens will be paying for their primary residence when they reach the age of 67," said HJR 44 sponsor Rep. Mark Matthiesen, R-O'Fallon. 67 is the current age for receiving full Social Security benefits.
This resolution would require those who qualify for the real estate tax cap to renew their application in person every three years.
The committee's primary concern, as Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis mentioned, is where the money to cover the cap on senior taxes will be coming from for local governments.
David Stokes, director of municipal policy at the Show Me Institute, opposed the resolution for that reason.
"If we start carving out exceptions for seniors, that's absolutely going to raise property taxes on everyone else if you take a significant cut and give freeze to the property taxes of everyone at 67," Stokes said. "You're going to create a disparity that will increase taxes for other people."
Community members in favor of HJR 44, however, believe that something needs to be done quickly.
"Nothing's being done, I mean (the committee) talk about the fact that you're singling out a certain group of taxpayers with this bill, how about the fact that I've been paying school taxes for 40 years and I have no kids in the school system," Lewis said. "When do I get relief from that?"
Merideth stated his support for reinstating the Homestead Tax Credit rather than implementing HJR 44, stating that "it's the way (Missouri) used to do it and it doesn't require a constitutional change."
"(Homestead Tax Credit) makes sure that it doesn't cause an increase in property tax of everyone else in the community or impact local revenue from property tax," Merideth said. "It instead would be the state has to pay for it essentially by reimbursing the homeowner for the increase in their property tax."
Merideth stated, however, that the credit has not been active for around 10 years. The apparent lack of transparency and inaction despite the various legislative proposals has left seniors confused and frustrated.
Lewis summarizes his frustrations by posing a single question: "Why? Why aren't you doing anything?"
Merideth, who has previously advocated for the reinstatement of the Homestead Tax Credit, expressed his understanding of Lewis' exasperation, stating that he has been asking the "folks in charge" that same question every year.
"Frankly, you're saying things that a number of us have been saying for years," Merideth said. "Why aren't we fixing some of these problems? We do have a record surplus right now; we should be addressing them."
The lack of support has left many seniors wondering how the current situation is fair for them and questioning if they'll be displaced.
In response to Merideth's sympathies, Lewis expressed that the legislature has to start somewhere.
"I appreciate that but, you know, here's a (resolution)," Lewis said. "Maybe it's not perfect, but here's the (resolution)."
HJR 44: Proposes a constitutional amendment that would freeze the property tax imposed on homesteads of certain senior citizens
Sponsor: Rep. Mark Matthiesen, R-O’Fallon