I live in a big blue city that is surrounded by a sea of rural red stereotypes. I know. I am safely ensconsed in the city now, but I come from an area that pretty much personifies the ‘cling to guns and religion’ archetype – a town with a population of under 400 with five active church congregagtions, and every pickup in every parking lot on Sunday has a couple of loaded guns in the gun rack.
The town I call “home” has two things going for it…an FDIC insured bank – the smallest one in the country, in fact, with only seventeen million dollars in total deposits – and a good school. We have pre-school through grade twelve in one building, and what we don’t have teachers for, we can get via satellite or the internet. . We have a low teacher-to-student ratio, and the kids learn. Then they go on to college in phenomenal numbers – sometimes 100% of the graduating seniors become freshmen in the fall, and they are all prepared to do the work, too.
We may bitch about taxes, but when it comes to the school, we pass the levies and pay them, and count on the state and the feds to do their part.
So why do the people up there keep sending republicans to the state legislature who refuse to fix glaring abuses to the tax code, thereby selling out their small-farmer and working-class constutuents to the greed of the states yachting class in the Ozarks?
Cash-strapped legislators have recommended spending cuts for Missouri schools and shelters for battered women, but so far the yachting class can enjoy another season of clear sailing.
Thanks to a longstanding tax exemption, Missouri’s marina set can opt to pay a small fee in lieu of sales taxes and shave as much as $30,000 off the purchase of a $500,000 boat.
That tax exemption alone is depriving state and local coffers of more than $6 million a year, according to some estimates. It’s just one of more than 130 untaxed transactions that are getting renewed attention in Jefferson City because of the state’s continuing budget crisis.
For now, however, yachts are treated like baby formula for the poor, tickets to the state fair and even newsprint -all are exempt from state and local sales taxes.
And to add insult to injury: the sort of boat that folks in the northern tier might buy don’t qualify for the tax break, they have to pay the full tax load. And the republicans who represent the northern tier do absolutely nothing to further the interests of their own constituents. They just sell them out in favor of rich people in the Ozarks, and never pay a penalty for doing so.
The Missouri legislature needs a realignment of priorities. Education is the most important thing we can spend money on, and constituents need to grasp that fact and make it a ‘third rail’ priority. Any politician who dares propose cutting the education budget should be roundly ridiculed and mocked as unserious. That the reality is otherwise, I find equal parts surreal and embarrassing.