The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Tony Messenger reported that state Republicans are calling for Governor Nixon to clarify which of his proposed budget priorities are based on funds expected from the federal stimulus package. The concern is that ongoing costs are being added or beefed up through the use of one-time federal monies. Of course, these funds are not a sure thing in the first place–Messenger refers to the stimulus money as “Monopoly money”–but, in any case, it is probably a sure thing that they are being used to mask a shortfall in state revenue.
Oddly enough, everybody seems to think that the problem is simply one of spending, even though budget shortfalls have plagued the past two governors–during far more prosperous times even–and one can argue that the budget cuts offered by both the Democratic and the Republican governor short-changed the citizens of Missouri in crucial ways. For Republican Senator Scott Rupp, this dilemma is puzzling:
Nixon’s budget directors use the phrase “budget stabilization” funds. But whatever you call it, Rupp is wondering why Missouri keeps needing it.
“Half of the years I’ve been here we’ve had to go to somebody else to help us with our budget woes,” … .
Is this guy really that dim? Even I can tell him why there is never enough money to do what the state needs to do–and it is not the current recession or wasteful spending. The problem can be laid at the failure of legislators like Rupp to do the heavy lifting they are hired to do, to levy the taxes that are needed in order to secure the goods and services that the people of the state require.
Instead, the good ol’ boys and girls in the State legislature along with their local government partners hand out tax incentives like candy, without any real evidence that they are effective and lots of reason to suppose that they are not. Meanwhile, the overused compensatory strategies of sales and property taxes are beginning to fail. Not only does the recession affect sales and hence sales tax revenue, but there are actually some folks out there who realize that as long as they vote to enable regressive taxes that is all they are going to get.
What’s the solution? This may not be the time to talk about raising taxes per se, but what about reforming the tax system? Do taxes smarter–just imagine! There are certainly ideas about how to go about it. For example, last April Hotflash described some interesting proposals put forward by Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford (D-St. Louis). But how do you get constituents to raise the hue and cry? How do you create the urgency that moves us past the Pavlovian salivating triggered by mention of “tax and spend liberals” so that we actually get what we need in an environment where business interests pay their fair share?