In his weekly Crowell Connection, Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, offers the third part in his series on why he favors tax credit reform:
Missouri’s past two state fiscal years have seen major revenue declines of -6.9% ($585 million) in 2009, -9.1% ($676 million) in 2010, and a projected future budget gap of as much as $755 million. These economic times give Missouri a great opportunity to right size government. Now is the time to take a long look at where we are, where we are going, and what must be done to ensure that your tax dollars are used effectively and efficiently.
It is during this time when your representatives are going through the process of examining where each dollar is spent that we can see where their priorities are. The areas protected and ensured full or expanded funding are those which they believe are important and vital to the state. And even though politicians claim education is their #1 priority, when it came to making the tough decisions to right sizing government, they balanced the past two years’ budgets through cuts and withholds to education.
The transportation line item provides school districts the needed funding to get students to and from school. Money withheld from this budget item results in schools having to cut classroom dollars to make up for any lack of funding in the transportation line item. So when the Governor withheld $52.5 million from this school year and proposed a permanent cut of $55 million to the next school year transportation budget, schools will in turn be forced to cut money from our children’s classroom education.
As long as tax credits are an entitlement, education will suffer because education funding and its transportation money stand in line with all of Missouri’s other expenses, which go through the appropriation process for funding. And while school districts wait in line to request funding for their buses, the politically connected who receive tax credits, cut to the front of the line, taking $521 million last year before one dollar can be provided for our children’s education. Then when school districts finally reach the front of the line, the politicians tell teachers and parents of students, sorry, we don’t have the money to fund your educational needs.
By listening to powerful lobbyist and allowing those who are connected to cut the appropriations line, government is picking winners and losers and subsequently redistributing wealth based on this assessment. And for the second year in a row, the winners are those receiving tax credits and the losers are our children’s’ and grandchildren’s education.
For example, Missouri’s politicians have decided that those who rent and do not even pay property taxes are more deserving of a tax credit than funding education. Last year, Missouri handed out $57 million in tax credits for the Circuit Breaker Tax Credit Program on property tax relief for renters. Many of whom are already living in low income housing tax credit subsidized apartments. So while people who do not pay property tax received $57 million first, our children wait in line for what is left over to fund their education.
The words of politicians claiming education is a priority are cheap; actions speak louder. In my opinion, it is time to put a system in place to allow the state to weigh a dollar spent on a tax credit against a dollar spent on education. This is why I have proposed that all tax credits be subject to the appropriations process. Here, we could prioritize between giving away $57 million dollars in property tax relief tax credits to those who do not pay property taxes against cutting $108 million over two years from our schools’ transportation funding.
As I go through this series, it is important to me to know your thoughts on tax credits and how we spend your money. Your elected representatives work for you, not the other way around, therefore, your feedback is extremely important.