The Kansas City Star, Aug. 31
Tax cuts risk shredding services for vulnerable citizens in Missouri
Small government and tax cuts sound good in the abstract, but too many politicians refuse to look behind the curtain to see what they really mean.
In Missouri, they mean risks for vulnerable citizens and economic hardship for people who make sure people with disabilities are fed, clothed and given a sense of purpose.
After going years without raises, caregivers for Missouri's developmentally disabled citizens were pleased when the General Assembly tucked money into this year's budget to give them some relief.
But two months into the budget year, the people who do the hard work of helping the state's most vulnerable citizens have yet to see the anticipated 3 percent increase in their paychecks. They could even be looking at pay cuts and staff reductions.
These workers and their employers, agencies which contract with Missouri to serve citizens with developmental disabilities, are caught in the uproar over House Bill 253, the divisive income tax cut legislation that Gov. Jay Nixon has vetoed. Republicans are trying to muster enough votes to override the veto in a couple of weeks.
The expected pay adjustment was frozen in June. Nixon restricted $400 million in state spending, saying he needed to keep money in the treasury as a hedge against a veto override. If that happens, he says, Missouri's revenues could plummet by $1.2 billion in this budget year.
Republicans accuse the Democratic governor of scare tactics, but Nixon is correct that the bill is seriously flawed. In a worst-case scenario it could have an immediate and catastrophic effect on Missouri's budget.
Even under more favorable outlooks, House Bill 253 would cost Missouri at least $700 million a year in lost revenues once it is fully phased in over 10 years. The impact would fall heavily on the people least able to cope.
Thanks to a creative alliance among the state, counties and the federal Medicaid program, Missouri is able to provide at least some services to most of its developmentally disabled citizens. (In this respect, it vastly outperforms Kansas, where thousands are on waiting lists.)
But the agencies that arrange and provide services in Missouri are stretched to the breaking point. The Department of Mental Health says many are paid less than 75 percent of the actual cost of an individual's care.
That's not good for Missourians who live in group homes, or who need help at home with essential functions such as bathing and dressing, or who spend time at day care facilities or sheltered workshops. And it's a huge strain on the people who take care of them, for wages starting as low as $8 or $9 an hour and not likely to go up much from there. ...
House Bill 253 would penalize vulnerable people and unsung heroes so that a select group of wealthy business people could pay less in taxes. It is a soulless road upon which the state should not embark.
The Springfield News-Leader, Aug. 31
Let the HB 253 veto stand
Everyone likes getting a lower tax bill, and reforming the tax system is an automatic applause line, but an effort that passed the Missouri General Assembly — and was vetoed by the governor — doesn't really do either for the majority of Missouri's working citizens.
We have opposed House Bill 253 in previous editorials, and we continue our opposition, but we also support and encourage any future efforts by state legislators to make our tax system more fair, create jobs, invite more businesses to Missouri, and provide the funds we need for education, infrastructure and needed services. HB 253 doesn't do any of that either.
The General Assembly will convene Sept. 11 to consider overriding any number of Gov. Jay Nixon's dozens of vetoes, including his veto of HB 253. House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, has said the tax-cut bill is at the top of his priorities list, but he has also admitted that getting the needed votes is unlikely, so it may not make it to a vote next week.
We encourage our readers to consider carefully the many flaws with HB 253, the serious economic implications of the bill, including the cost the bill would impose on education, infrastructure and needed services, and to contact area lawmakers to make their opinions known.
Here is what HB 253 will do for Missourians who earn a paycheck. It will cut personal income tax on income over $9,000 by one half of a percent — from 6.0 percent to 5.5 — over 10 years. But each 0.05 percent reduction only occurs if the state's revenue grows by at least $100 million during one of the previous three years. If the override effort is successful, the first step will go into effect next year, giving most wage earners 1/20th of a percent off their tax bill, putting their tax rate at 5.95 percent. Don't expect anything in 2015, since the hit to state revenues from the bill are likely to pull that "trigger" to kill further cuts.
However, if your paycheck comes as "pass-through" income from a corporation such as a limited liability company or a sole proprietorship you will get your income taxes cut in half — from 6.25 percent to 3.25 percent — in three years regardless of the state's revenues. No trigger to pull on your tax break. And your corporate franchise taxes are set to disappear too, thanks to a bill passed in 2011.
That is unfair, giving a big tax break to business owners and letting struggling families continue to pay essentially the same rate they have been paying.
To make matters worse, there are some flaws that went into the bill, including one that means everyone will have to pay state sales tax on prescription drugs and textbooks, previously exempted from the tax. (Before you blame your legislator for those flaws, remember that it was Rex Sinquefield's Grow Missouri and the Sinquefield- supported Associated Industries of Missouri that drafted the bill.)
Supporters of the bill say that those flaws are easily fixable in the upcoming legislative session. That is true, but another truth is that if this bill fails to spur the economy the way those supporters promise, it is not an easy fix. The General Assembly can cut taxes, but it can't raise them without a vote of the people. Once this is done, we will be forced to live with it, regardless of its impact. ...
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 30
Political courage needed to reform Missouri's sex-offender registry
The phony "tough-on-crime" environment could prevent Missouri lawmakers from doing what they should to reform the state's sex-offender registry.
There is no question that the registry needs work. It has been operating since the mid-1990s, when federal and state governments created "Megan's Laws" in response to the murder of a 7-year-old in New Jersey. Megan Kanka was killed by a convicted sex offender who lived across the street.
At the federal level, Megan's Law is officially known as the Sexual Offender (Jacob Wetterling) Act of 1994. It requires people convicted of sex crimes against children to notify local law enforcement of a change of address or employment after release from custody.
When sex offender registries were created, the World Wide Web was booming. It offered promise as a tool for the public to track criminals who had committed sexual crimes against children. Parents were told how to log on to a state website for registered sexual offenders. There, with the click of a mouse, they could find a map of their community with red arrows indicating where sex offenders lived.
A lot has happened in the world since 1994: 9/11; Osama bin Laden; New Orleans destroyed and rebuilt, to name but a few of them. Missouri's sex-offender registry, however, remains the same.
Studies disproving the effectiveness of such registries have proliferated. Extensive research has been conducted on the types of sexual offenders who will repeat their crimes, and the frequency — or more often, infrequency — that it happens.
A study by the state of Michigan showed that an average of just 3.5 percent of registered sex offenders repeat their crimes. The other 96.5 percent do not. As a group, sex offenders have among the lowest recidivism rates in the criminal justice system.
It's the monsters who get the headlines and make politicians afraid of the repercussions that would come from supporting efforts to reform the registry to be more reflective of reality.
The reality is that being listed on the registry can destroy a person's life. In some cases, that's fine. It's hard to sympathize with a child rapist, or any rapist for that matter. But for others, being listed on the registry can lead to trouble finding jobs and housing and send neighbors and friends running.
Missouri keeps registrants on the list forever, no matter how young they might have been when they offended or the severity of their offense. This is overkill, particularly in light of some of the evidence that not all "sex offenders" are likely to be repeat offenders.
It's time to get unlikely repeat offenders off the state's registry so they can get on with their lives. Missouri lawmakers took a step in that direction this year when they passed HB 301. It would remove from the sex offender registry all the names of those whose crimes were committed when they were under age 18. ...
But Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat who built his reputation as attorney general as being "tough on crime," vetoed the bill. In vetoing the bill, Mr. Nixon said it did not distinguish between relatively minor offenders and those who used force or violence in their crimes. He said it was wrong to remove a class of offenders from the site without regard for their crimes, and noted that the offender website had 4.2 million visitors last year, making it an important public information tool.
We agree with Mr. Nixon that the bill is imperfect, but those imperfections must be kept in perspective with the value of the entire bill. ...
St. Joseph News-Press, Aug. 28
Schools can teach firearms' dangers
There are four things children need to know if they encounter a gun:
—Leave the area.
—Tell an adult.
That's the helpful message presented through the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program available from the National Rifle Association. About 1 million children receive the instruction each year. Last year, about 50 police and sheriff's departments in Missouri ordered the video and related materials for their communities.
The General Assembly this spring approved a measure to endorse the gun safety program for first-graders throughout the state; Gov. Jay Nixon signed it into law. The course, featuring an eagle character teaching 6- and 7-year-olds, is not mandatory. Each school district is free to decide if it fits into its curriculum.
Language in the bill specifically prohibits school personnel and instructors from making any value judgments about guns while teaching the children. Firearms are never used in the program.
In a legislative session with a pro-gun push, this was one of the most sensible laws to emerge. Many Missouri children live in homes where guns are legally kept and used; others are exposed to guns as part of violence in a family or neighborhood. We're acutely aware of the dangers children face when guns are not properly stored or handled.
Our schools should not be expected to solve all of society's problems. However, education on the dangers of firearms could be invaluable in protecting a child's life, and this program has proven one of the most popular ways to teach awareness of these dangers to young children.
Not all school districts will choose to incorporate the material into their already crowded teaching schedules. These choices will be respected.
Still, the lawmakers' endorsement should give many districts the confidence to proceed with offering the program. Schools may find it especially useful for police officers serving as resource officers to lead this effort.
Knowing these four things to do when seeing a gun could protect Missouri's children.