- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 17, 2017

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 14

Auditor’s review of legislative tax breaks lists 8-year cost to Missouri at $2.1 billion and up

Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway has compiled, in one handy 26-page audit report, most of the ways that the Legislature has given away tax money in recent years without making sure the state is getting anything in return. It’s shocking reading, even though it’s not the entire story.

Galloway audited the tax incentives and exemptions that the state doles out to business interests, but not the dozens of tax credit programs that annually cost more than $500 million and are plagued by the same lack of cost-benefit analysis. Two gubernatorial commissions since 2015 have recommended greater accountability for tax credits, but it hasn’t happened.

Galloway focused on 27 pieces of budget-impacting legislation enacted between 2014 and 2016, noting, “There’s no system in place to determine whether taxpayers are getting promised economic benefits from special interest giveaways.”

In all, those 27 bills reduced state revenue by $205 million in the current budget year. Between 2014 and 2022, the 8-year loss to state revenue will be at least $2.1 billion, and probably considerably more. We say “probably” because the economic impact of most of the giveaways is unknown.

This is important because the state is failing many basic obligations to its citizens. Consider just one: This year the Legislature was reduced to raiding miscellaneous state bank accounts for $35 million to cover in-home health care and medical services for 8,000 elderly and disabled Missourians. Gov. Eric Greitens vetoed the bill, calling it a “fake fix” without offering anything better.

Galloway reported that the “fiscal notes” attached to legislation that estimate budgetary impact are often drastically understated and are never reviewed to see whether they went wrong. For example, the fiscal note for a 2015 law that gave corporations an income tax break on interstate sales estimated its cost at $15.2 million a year. In its first two years, it’s probably cost $177 million. You could have taken care of those 8,000 seniors and disabled people for two years with $100 million left over.

The audit criticized the 2 percent discount given to retailers who pay their sales taxes on time. Unlike most other states, Missouri doesn’t cap how much can be claimed. Retailers kept $115 million in sales taxes last year for doing what the rest of us have to do with no discount - pay on time.

In a deal unique to Missouri, employers get a discount for remitting their employee withholding taxes on time. Missouri also could be forgoing hundreds of millions each year by not taxing internet sales by companies without a physical presence in the state.

Missouri offers 209 sales-tax exemptions, famously including one for yoga classes. Only three of them are monitored for what they actually cost.

“Promoting a good business climate doesn’t have to be at odds with protecting taxpayers.” Galloway said. Amen to that.

___

The St. Joseph News-Press, Oct. 13

Curator’s views due wider airing

David Steelman is but one member of the University of Missouri System Board of Curators, but his comments this week will do as a helpful conversation-starter among curators and anyone else with a stake in higher education.

Steelman, a former Missouri House minority leader, had more to say than what was distributed in statewide news reports. For those additional details we can thank the Columbia Missourian, which covered his appearance at a forum Tuesday.

The first topic for discussion: Steelman’s view that a lack of strong, decisive leadership largely led to MU’s public perception problems during and after the fall 2015 protests.

“No one wanted to stand up and say ‘This is why Bowen Loftin resigned, this is why the president resigned, and by the way, the University of Missouri is not a racist campus,’” he said.

The fallout from the protests, according to Steelman, will cause the curators to be more directly involved in overseeing the four system campuses - to the point they will pursue a new model of unified leadership of the campuses.

A review underway at each of the campuses is seeking to identify areas where program offerings should be cut or realigned. Some faculty may accuse the curators of micromanaging, but it is important the curators push ahead, Steelman said.

“There’s people who aren’t going to like these decisions being made,” he said, “but I don’t see how the University of Missouri goes on to greatness until it starts becoming the University of Missouri with four campuses and not a University of Missouri System that is a back-office operation with four independent contractors.”

This, too, should prompt conversation, not just in Rolla, St. Louis and Kansas City, but also in other locales where concerns bubble up about how the system works to the benefit of all of the state’s citizens.

Steelman also said the state’s Higher Education Student Funding Act, passed in 2007, is a problem. The system needs the flexibility to institute differential tuition, where certain programs are more expensive than others, he said. But the funding law caps tuition increases to the rate of inflation and does not allow this flexibility.

“It costs a lot more to educate an engineer,” Steelman said, compared with sociology or humanities. “The labs cost more, the professors cost more.”

He finds a ripple effect. With tuition being “too low,” Steelman said, MU has focused on recruiting out-of-state students who would pay a higher tuition - to the exclusion of Missouri students.

“Gradually, over time, we’ve lost our connection to much of Missouri,” Steelman said, pointing to efforts now underway to improve communication and branding of the campuses.

The hope of the curators is that through a range of activist steps they can strengthen the campuses’ ties with Missourians, improve alignment and efficiency of degree programs, increase enrollment and bolster relations with lawmakers. It’s a hope we should all share.

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Columbia Daily Tribune, Oct. 11

AG Hawley’s political maneuver should come as no surprise

It should come as no surprise that Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley has entered the race for U.S. Senate. The signs have been there for months.

The political waters in Missouri and nationwide are the perfect temperature for conservative opportunists to begin wading. Doubly so for red states like Missouri. If anything we should be surprised it took Hawley this long to dive in. Individuals such as Vice President Mike Pence began whispering in Hawley’s ear as early as July at the prospect of handing yet another seat to the GOP. Why not? There’s much to like on paper about the up-and-coming attorney-turned-politician.

Hawley’s resume includes an undergraduate degree from Stanford and a law degree from Yale. He’s from rural America but also fits in well with academics, having taught law at the University of Missouri. He also has clerkships at the U.S. Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court under his name. Then, he won the AG post with 58 percent of the popular vote.

But none of this tells us anything about what kind of statesman Hawley will be. After just nine months on the job as AG he’s already looking for a new gig. Hawley is acting like this is may be his only chance to achieve higher office, or that 2018 will be his best chance ever.

Despite the turmoil in Washington, D.C., and by that we mean the infighting between the increasingly-unpopular Trump administration and GOP members of Congress, Republicans are still winning elections and handing Democrats defeat after defeat. The fact Democrats can’t win a special election despite dwindling faith in Congress and the presidency reflects how much trouble the party is in. If Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is going to be unseated, 2018 is as good a chance as any.

If we were Hawley, we wouldn’t want to sit by and watch a lesser-known name clear a path to the U.S. Senate.

But if Hawley wants to represent Missouri in Washington, D.C., he has some convincing to do. First, he needs to convince Missourians he’ll be his own man and not beholden to the special interests, donors or politicians attempting to elevate his status. Missouri doesn’t need a GOP rubber stamp. Anyone can do that. What Missourians, and the nation as a whole, need right now are statesmen. There’s too much pandering and role-playing in the halls of Congress. Bipartisanship and common sense need to prevail once more.

We also hope Hawley’s aspirations don’t interfere with his current job. Now’s not the time to start showboating over who’s the most conservative around. Missouri is facing crises on several fronts, from opioid abuse to education funding, and pandering to particular voting blocs will do little to move the state forward.

We hope to see Hawley remain focused on his current position and perform it as though there is no higher office.

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