As first appearing in the Columbia Tribune:
Winston Churchill chided the British government for inaction at a time of growing peril, saying (in 1936): “So they go on in strange paradox: decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift.”
I would make the same point about the Missouri Legislature. Once again, at the close of another session, our lawmakers (supposedly a fiercely conservative group) frittered away their time in producing a series of half-measures – with an excess of caution in trying to do the right things and a deficit of courage or common sense in failing to address key issues.
Take the school transfer bill (Senate Bill 493) passed on the second to last day. This bill was supposed to expand school choice. And so it might – in the long term, in setting up a process that would lead to the limited use of public money to support private (non-sectarian) education for some children.
However, if signed into law, the bill will pull a rug – or, to speak more dramatically, a magic carpet to better education – out from under more than 2,000 children in the Saint Louis area.
In revising the 1993 school transfer law, the new bill eliminated language that required unaccredited school districts to provide transferring students with paid bus transportation to schools in higher-performing districts. This means that many (and probably most) of the students who transferred out of the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts last fall will suddenly be without the public transportation they need to continue their education at distant schools.
Lawmakers overrode Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto and passed into law the first reduction in our state’s income tax in almost a century. I will give them one cheer for that, and another cheer for refusing to be bull-rushed into accepting billions of dollars in federal subsidies to expand the wasteful and deeply troubled Medicaid program as part of implementation of the much-delayed and ever-changing Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare).
But it is impossible to give our lawmakers a third cheer given the gross deficiencies of both the school transfer and the tax cut bills.
For parents of students who transferred out of Normandy and Riverview Gardens last year, SB 493 is a cruel piece of legislation - marking a sudden removal of the freedom to choose a new school for their children.
Though long overdue, the tax cut bill proceeds in baby steps – beginning in 2017 with the first of a series of one-tenth of 1 percent cuts in the tax on personal income, from 6 percent to 5.5 percent in 2022, and with the phasing in of a 25 percent cut in taxes on pass-through income for entrepreneurs and small business owners.
What the legislature totally failed to do, however, was pave the way for deeper, broad-based cuts for all Missourians through the elimination or substantial reduction in targeted tax credits for economic development. That is money (about $400 million a year) that supposedly goes to promising business ventures and commercial developments. But the return on this investment of taxpayer money is not just bad; it is appalling. Again and again, the would-be great success stories (think Mamtek in Moberly and the Citadel in Kansas City) have turned into disappointments.
Instead, our legislators went in the exact opposite direction in approving a flurry of last-minute tax breaks for selected businesses – once again trying to pick winners and losers.
That was a shameful conclusion to another five-month legislative session that did little or nothing to advance the growth and competitiveness of our state. But maybe our representatives did their best, and that is the real tragedy.
Andrew B. Wilson is a resident fellow and senior writer at the Show-Me Institute, which promotes market solutions for Missouri public policy.