I first encountered GOP state Rep. Sue Allen a few years ago when, along with fellow GOP Reps. Cole McNary and Andrew Koenig, she “co-hosted,” a showing of the film, “Not evil, just wrong.” The film is a cleverly made compendium of many of the distortions and lies that have emanated from the climate change denialist right over the past few years. When I questioned some of its contentions in the Q & A session that followed, Allen became visibly annoyed and told me that this was an informational meeting for constituents and implied that I should shut-up if not get-out. I explained that I was, in fact, a constituent of her co-host Andrew Koenig, and she retreated – without responding to my question – but visibly discombobulated. I refrained from asking her what she thought the word “constituent” meant.
I bring this up because the encounter helped form my impression of Allen who, a few years later, thanks to redistricting, became my representative in the people’s house of the state of Missouri. My image was of a crass Tea Party darling, willing to use intimidation and lies to sell the party-line. Imagine my surprise when Allen’s frequent email Capitol Reports rarely presented me with anything more controversial than accounts of visits from girl scouts to the capital or descriptions of neutral legislative initiatives. Or if they weren’t neutral they were consistently described as if they were. For instance, she recently noted that the House continued to work on “voter fraud” – but she left it at that, not a word about the contentious hearings on the matter, while the crucial words “voter ID’ were nowhere to be found. Her conservative colors do show through, but any hint of the GOP radicalism that has been on display in the lege over the past few years has only rarely surfaced.
My impression that Allen was one of those blood-red-state types trying to pose as a less threatening soft pink was reinforced when I learned that she was one of three Missouri lawmakers identified by the Missouri Ethics Commission for being lavishly wined and dined by corporate lobbyists “with interests before the General Assembly” during a 2014 American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) junket in Dallas. At issue were efforts to hide the identity of the three recipients of the lobbyist largesse in subsequent mandatory reports. It wasn’t just the hint of corruption that hit home , but the fact that keeping the hardcore stuff under the radar, a longtime hallmark of ALEC and its legislative acolytes, also seemed to be Allen’s modus operandi.
Allen’s latest Capital Report (3/31), however, does attempt to deal openly if not very honestly with a controversial issue: a bill filed by Allen, HJR 104, which would allow the entire state to vote on a purely municipal issue, abolishing city earnings taxes. Allen’s bill calls for a constitutional amendment which would go directly to the state’s voters, bypassing the Governor’s desk and his potential veto.
I suspect that this move resulted in lots of unwelcome publicity for Allen. Which is not surprising: when asked why she filed the bill, she responded that “the measure ‘is not something I’m spending a lot of time on so I’d rather you not address this with me’ […] Additionally, she said she filed the bill because someone asked her to, but she would not identify the individual who did so.” Might excite a little constituent outrage perhaps?
Allen’s newsletter screed seems desperate to justify this favor for an unnamed beneficiary. And what better excuse than the Constitution, as represented in a Supreme Court ruling in Maryland v. Wynne (May 1915) . The ruling found that “disallowing local income tax credit for taxes paid in other states is unconstitutional.” Or, as Allen put it:
House Joint Resolution 104 calls for a state-wide vote on requiring the earnings tax to be replaced by January 1, 2030 or 14 years. A recent Supreme Court ruling could require both Kansas City and St. Louis to give up large portions of their revenues, as gathered by the earnings taxes, in credits to other states. In addition, there could potentially be a requirement to refund millions to those taxed under this system. If either of these scenarios happen, both cities will have an immediate, large reduction in revenue with no apparent plan in place to replace the earnings tax. HJR 104 provides up to 14 years for a reasonable replacement plan to be put in place. This resolution is a proactive step toward lessening the potential impact a ruling from the Supreme Court could inflict on St. Louis revenues and will give local governments and voter’s time to come up with REAL solutions.
In the recent case of Comptroller of the Treasury of Maryland v. Wynne, the U.S. Supreme Court held that an individual’s resident state cannot tax an income without ensuring that income is not being double taxed. Currently, St. Louis does not give ANY tax credits for taxes paid to other areas which can result in taxes being levied from two authorities on the same income, which is unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause. For example, if you live in St. Louis but work in Illinois, your income could be taxed by Illinois and Missouri under the current law.
It is not actually true that, as Allen claims above, the ruling would “require both Kansas City and St. Louis to give up large portions of their revenues, as gathered by the earnings taxes, in credits to other states.” The Wynne ruling is complex, but the gist seems to be that there must be an accommodation that conforms to tests of internal and external consistency vis-a-vis interstate commerce to avoid double taxation on personal income subject to taxation in more than one jurisdiction. Both cities believe that they meet the tests.
Kansas City actually has a credit arrangement with Kansas that ensures its compliance with the ruling – which probably accounts for the fact that it was recently removed from Senator Kurt Schaefer’s (R-19) legislation to abolish Missouri earnings taxes. Nor is St. Louis Mayor Slay concerned by the constitutional issues; as he explained to the members of the House, St. Louis passed a law in February that brought them into compliance with Wynne – I guess Allen wasn’t at work that day. As far as residents of other Missouri jurisdictions, such as St. Louis County who work in St. Louis and pay taxes there, I notice that the Missouri tax code allows them to deduct earning taxes if they so choose.
The constitutional argument belatedly pushed front and center by Senator Kurt Schaeffer (R-19) and, most recently, by Sue Allen, isn’t likely to hold water. An article published in the Pitch last January observed:
Schaefer’s argument about the constitutionality of the tax is a new tactic for him. He didn’t raise constitutional questions last summer, when he first broached the idea of ridding Kansas City and St. Louis of the earnings tax. Rather, he proposed the move as a punitive measure for those cities seeking to increase their minimum wage beyond the state-proscribed $7.65 an hour. In a June 12 letter to his colleagues, Schaefer proposed eliminating the earnings tax as a means of giving money back to employers and employees.
Along with punishing cities that don’t go along with GOP orthodoxy, there is very convincing speculation that big gifts from billionaire Rex Sinquefield, who has fought long and hard to eliminate the earnings tax, may explain some of Schaefer’s animus. Sinquefield made a direct gift of $750,000 to support of Schaefer’s candidacy for Attorney General – along with”thousands more indirectly from Sinquefield through Grow Missouri, a free-economy political action committee that is funded in large part by Sinquefield.”
Which brings us back to Sue Allen. Remember the unnamed individual who asked her to file a bill that would let rabidly conservative out-staters vote on St. Louis’ earnings tax? Wonder who she’s so eager to do favors for? Guess what? According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “since December 2014, Allen has received $4,500 from Grow Missouri, a Sinquefield-backed group.”
So what can we infer from all this? When it comes to legislative “favors,” one hand greases the other, as they say. And although Allen herself is term-limited and will leave the legislature, her husband, Mike Allen, plans to run for her seat. It’s always worthwhile to keep those family hands well-greased and if it gets out that you have a taste for the oily stuff, if you possibly can, putting a constitutional label on your grease pot will hide a multitude of sins.
Slightly edited for clarity.