St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 15
Worried about Missouri's tax climate? Don't be
The silly season has arrived.
That's that time of year during an election season in which the allegations going back and forth between various campaigns are so absurd they're hardly worth mentioning.
Take Missouri's gubernatorial candidates, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, and Republican Dave Spence.
The two campaigns are spending thousands of dollars arguing in television advertisements about whether Mr. Spence has ever been a banker. On Friday, Mr. Spence actually sued the governor over calling him a banker. We are not making this up.
It reminds us of the episode of the timeless television sitcom "Seinfeld" when, in a bizarre attempt to get his friend Newman out of a speeding ticket, Kramer testifies that he was distraught that day because he never fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a banker.
Yes, the dispute is that silly.
But on one important matter of public policy, Mr. Spence and Mr. Nixon agree.
They both despise taxes. They both believe that Missouri's taxes are too high, or at least high enough, and that raising taxes somehow would make Missouri less business friendly.
They're both wrong, and another in a long line of studies and reports on Missouri's tax environment helped make the case last week.
The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, released its yearly Business Tax Climate index, a report that aims to determine whether various states are business friendly, based on tax burdens.
Missouri scored high, ranking 16th friendliest tax climate for businesses in the nation.
Only one border state did better, Tennessee, and it was ranked 15th.
In the categories that matter most to businesses, Missouri ranks in the top 10: eighth-lowest for corporate taxes, and sixth-best for both unemployment insurance and property taxes. In each of these categories, Missouri's business tax climate is first or second best compared to every border state.
Missouri is, and has been for a very long time, a very good place to do business when it comes to having low taxes. ...
The Springfield News-Leader, Oct. 13
Vote 'yes' on Proposition B
For the third time in 10 years, Missourians are being asked to increase the tax on tobacco products. This time may be the charm.
We believe it will be.
Missouri has the lowest tobacco tax in the nation, 17 cents a pack, a surprising fact in a state that has no direct tobacco interest — no tobacco farms, no tobacco factories — just tobacco lobby money.
But a coalition of about 50 mostly health and education organizations is working hard to change that. Show-Me A Brighter Future has given voice to these organizations, as well as individuals, who believe that the cost to the state from the effects of tobacco far outweigh the additional 73-cents-per-pack tax increase Proposition B would impose.
We agree. The News-Leader Editorial Board has supported other tobacco-related causes, including Springfield's recent smoking ban.
We hold that position because we believe that the health of our readers and our citizens is important, and we know that tobacco hurts people's health. ...
So, we say, vote yes on Prop B.
Yes, we understand the objections — lost revenue for tobacco retailers, especially in border communities where they lure smokers from neighboring states to purchase their tobacco products at a lower rate; and the impact on the poor who smoke in disproportionately higher numbers.
The Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, which opposes Prop B, paid for a study by a University of Missouri economist that found Prop B could translate into a loss of at least $67 million in local tax revenues from people who are addicted to tobacco products.
In 2002 and 2006, Missouri voters rejected a more modest and a more expensive tax increase on tobacco, but the measures lost by narrow margins — 2 percent in 2002 and 3 percent in 2006, when R.J. Reynolds and other big tobacco companies funded the dubiously named Missourians Against Tax Abuse.
In a 2011 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being index, Missouri ranked second in the number of smokers, at 26 percent, ahead of every bordering state except Kentucky, which has a higher rate of 60 cents per pack but is the lowest among states that border ours. The national average is 20 percent.
Show-Me A Brighter Future has estimated that the tax increase could cause 33,300 adult smokers to quit and 40,100 kids never to start. Those numbers are based on experience in neighboring states. Consider Kansas, with a 79-cent-per-pack tax and a 19 percent smoking rate. Illinois, with a $1.98-per-pack tax, has a 21 percent rate. And Iowa, with a $1.36 tax, has a 22 percent rate.
If higher taxes can make that kind of impact, including on those who can ill afford to buy tobacco products as they are struggling to buy food, medicine and housing, then we believe it is a good idea. ...
St. Joseph News-Press, Oct. 13
Missouri must limit malpractice awards
Two states, two wildly different conclusions about what is permissible when someone accuses another of medical malpractice.
In Kansas, a person who is found to have suffered injury at the hands of a medical care provider is entitled to a jury award of actual damages and a second award of non-economic damages determined to be justified by pain and suffering. The second award is capped at $250,000 — a limit upheld recently by the Kansas Supreme Court.
In Missouri, a person in the same circumstances is entitled to a jury award of actual damages and a second award of . well, whatever number a group of local folks on a jury come up with. A reasonable limit of $350,000 on non-economic damages was struck down this summer by a divided Missouri Supreme Court.
If in fact a damages cap is not permitted by Missouri's constitution — despite a high court ruling to that effect 20 years ago — then the document needs to be amended by a vote of the people as soon as possible. Or if some other remedy is available, then our state's leaders should close ranks and bring this about for the good of everyone without delay.
What is needed now is the same kind of bipartisan good government that occurred in 2005 under former Gov. Matt Blunt, when lawmakers passed the overturned damages cap.
Our elected representatives, like those in approximately 30 other states, banded together at that time to address that era's crisis caused by out-of-control malpractice lawsuits and damage awards that were driving up the cost of liability insurance and driving away doctors. Their efforts succeeded in reversing those trends.
The problems that arise from eliminating liability limits are multiple:
There is little restraint on lawsuits that are filed just to capture an excessive multimillion-dollar award. Lawsuits that lack merit still can be costly to defend.
The entire climate for business investment and expansion is colored by soaring costs for medical liability insurance that spill over to employers. The contrast with our border state gives Kansas an edge in business recruitment.
The cost of insurance — when it can be obtained — puts doctors' practices in peril and may cause many to choose other states to pursue their careers. Access to physicians, especially specialists, is put at risk.
Attracting doctors to underserved communities, such as the 80 percent of Missouri counties that have a shortage of physicians, becomes more difficult.
Costly "defensive medicine" — more tests and procedures ordered solely to head off lawsuits — becomes more common.
We don't disagree with the notion that reducing preventable medical errors must take the highest priority. In the same vein, victims are entitled to fair compensation.
However, experience has shown removing caps on medical malpractice awards opens the system to abuses that can threaten access to health care and impair economic growth. Reasonable limits are a must.
Jefferson City News Tribune, Oct. 10
Visions for the future of newspapers
The future of community newspapers in a rapid changing world is a focal point of discussion during this year's observance of National Newspaper Week.
During the observance, which continues through Saturday, we offer visions of that future from representatives of business, government and the journalism industry.
—Investor Warren Buffett, in a letter discussing his interest in purchasing newspapers from Media General: "If a citizenry cares little about its community, it will eventually care little about its newspaper. In a very general way, strong interest in community affairs varies inversely with population size and directly with the number of years a community's population has been in residence."
—U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich.: "We count on them (newspapers) to regularly check in with the courts and police stations. They print announcements on births, deaths, engagements, marriages, anniversaries, church news, job openings, school information and service club endeavors. They publish notices of local municipal meetings. They print tax increases, initiatives, notices of changes in laws and property rezoning — all issues that most directly affect our pocketbooks by determining how our hard-earned tax dollars are spent at the local level and how are local officials are representing us."
—Caroline H. Little, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America in Arlington, Va.: "Just a few years ago, we were a print business with digital on the side. Today, we are bringing together print, web and mobile, and opening the possibilities for even greater advancements that now may be only dreams in a young innovator's mind. ... In an era where anyone can say anything and call it news, it is newspaper content that consistently gets it right and keeps it in context. And a critical part of the industry evolution is the recognition that if you want to separate the serious from the sludge, it might cost you a little money."
Those remarks characterize a newspaper's role in reporting the ever-changing activities, successes and challenges of community.
They also highlight a newspaper's commitment to deliver its product conveniently — in print or via the Internet. Advances in technology also have allowed newspapers not only to deliver information, but to spark feedback and conversations that extend beyond print to our web and Facebook sites.
Finally, a newspaper strives for truth, fairness and objectivity. It filters what Little characterized as "the serious from the sludge."
In the final analysis, technology has multiplied opportunities to interact, but our mission remains constant: To provide our community with an accurate reflection of its daily life.