Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon clouds the issues and undermines his own credibility when he suggests the legislature has written a tax law so badly that it could have "cataclysmic" consequences for state revenues.
In the run-up to his anticipated veto, Gov. Nixon on Tuesday could not stop at objecting to the proposed tax cut as a matter of policy. Rather he upped the ante and contended lawmakers of the opposition party were backing a foolhardy plan that unintentionally would close public schools, prisons and mental health facilities.
In this moment, the state’s chief executive officer veers down a legalistic path — offering as support the opinion of a law professor versus that of a former state Supreme Court chief justice. We think the chief justice wins this argument.
As news reports note, Missouri’s top tax rate of 6 percent currently is charged on all income over $9,000. The Republican proposal calls for an annual one-tenth of a percentage point cut until the top rate drops to 5.5 percent.
The proposal says once this is accomplished, “the bracket for income subject to the top rate of tax shall be eliminated.” Gov. Nixon contends that means a tax no longer would be charged on any income over $9,000 — eliminating two-thirds of the state’s general revenue budget.
This thought has been offered by no one else, save for a Washington University professor who backs the governor’s interpretation. On the other side is former Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice William Ray Price Jr.
Mr. Price believes courts would rule the legislation sets a new top tax rate of 5.5 percent on all income over $8,000 — and he cites another sentence in the bill that says the Department of Revenue director “shall, by rule, adjust the tax tables” to carry out the provisions of the bill.
Remember, the proposed cuts would take effect over five years beginning in 2017. To ease the impact on the budget, the annual cuts would take effect only if Missouri’s general revenue grows at least $150 million a year, compared to the top revenue figure of the previous three years.
This plan is a measured approach with responsible safeguards built in. You can oppose this because you think the state needs more revenues, rather than a tax cut, but it’s hard to buy the governor’s claim this plan would bring state government to a grinding halt.