At least three statements jumped out the other day when half a dozen state legislators from the area discussed business issues and other questions facing the Missouri General Assembly as it convenes today for its 2014 session.
Let’s start with state Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, when asked about what advocates call equalization of sales tax rates among local stores and online retailers.
“Some of these solutions are simple, but then we complicate them down in the Jefferson City,” LeVota told those gathered for a breakfast put on by the Independence Council for Economic Development and the Independence Chamber of Commerce.
That might be in the early running for quote of the year, but there were others that morning, too. We’ll get to them.
First, here’s the debate over “equalization:” If you buy a new TV at a local store, you pay state and local sales taxes. If you order it online from out of state, you don’t. (Well, you’re supposed to voluntarily, but that doesn’t happen.) City of Independence officials, for example, have argued that turns local retailers into showrooms for online companies – and they say it hurts local retailers, hurts local jobs and takes a chunk out of the local taxes needed for basic services. The Chamber of Commerce has made equalization part of its legislative platform.
Others say not so fast. State Rep. Noel Torpey, R-Independence, said National Federation of Independent Business surveys come out about 50/50 on the issue, and Rep. Sheila Solon, R-Blue Springs, said business groups have their perspective on this but the big picture is that citizens – voters – hate, hate, hate the idea. Torpey pointed out that the measure Missouri looked at last year was contingent on Congress acting first, and, he said, that’s just not going to happen.
Rep. Ira Anders, D-Independence, agreed that the issue is going nowhere, and he added what we’ll call quote of the week No. 2.
“Nobody really cares to pay more tax.”
Taxes took up much of the breakfast conversation. State Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, said a tax cut – vetoed last year by Gov. Jay Nixon – remains his top priority. He said he wants to return money to taxpayers as the state’s revenues rise with a growing economy. Overall, he wants the state to see $100 million in revenue a year before a tax cut would kick in. As for the equalization of sales taxes between online and brick-and-mortar retailers, Kraus, who chairs the key Ways and Means Committee in the Senate, said he wants to involve the governor and favors equalization only if it’s “revenue neutral,” that is, not a tax windfall for the state.
Some local Democrats see it differently. LeVota, for example, said he’s happy to look at tax policy but said the state has to take care of basic services such as schools and roads.
Anders said poverty issues are at the heart of some of the educational problems schools are facing; he pointed out that the state is $600 million a year short of its stated target for K-12 school funding, and he noted that the state is giving its public universities $100 million less, per year, than 10 years ago.
“We don’t really have enough money in this state, I don’t think,” Anders said.
Tom McDonald, D-Raytown, echoed that point. First, he said, equalization will happen at some point. The larger issue, he said, is that policy makers in Jefferson City and people across the state want better roads, they want better schools and they want lower taxes. That doesn’t add up, he said.
Which leads us to quote of the week No. 3.
“We may as well deal with the inevitable early on,” McDonald said about equalization, “and we might as well talk about it.”
Bills in the hopper
Solon said she will again push a bill requiring that insurance companies that pay for intravenous chemotherapy also cover those treatments when available in pill form.
Having to travel and often take off work for chemotherapy, she said, imposes a burden, particularly in rural parts of the state, but she said the insurance industry has opposed her bill. There have been advances in the medical parts of that equation, Solon said.
“Unfortunately, the insurance industry has not kept pace with that,” she said.
The industry says the change would force up premiums, but Solon says 27 states have already made this change and a committee she chaired during the months the legislature was out of session found that wasn’t the case, she said.
• LeVota said he’s looking at how state boards and commissions deal with business. Some, for example, aren’t full and that can delay needed accreditations.
“These are the things that small businesses deal with,” LeVota said.
• Anders, who has been focused on energy issues, said utilities need to be cost-efficient and up-to-date in a changing environment.
“Coal-fired plants are, I think, a thing of the past,” he said.
He even weighed in on the simmering question of what Independence Power and Light, with its two old coal-fired plants, will do in the future.
“We’re looking at a situation we’re going to have to deal with there,” he said.
In the works
• Wal-Mart is still mum on what it plans at Gaslight Square at 35th Street and Noland Road in Independence, but CommunityAmerica Credit Union says Wal-Mart is having the credit union remove its ATM there. That happens next week.
• Papa Murphy’s, which opened recently at 1203 Buckner-Tarsney Road, just north of Interstate 70 in Grain Valley, is having a ribbon cutting at noon Friday and grand-opening events throughout the weekend. On Thursday, a portion of sales is being given to local schools.
• NAPA Auto Parts has moved a Blue Springs location to 1601 N.W. Missouri 7 (an old Blockbuster site), across from the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market. The company says this is a bigger and better location with better parking.
Jeff Fox is The Examiner’ s business reporter and editor. Reach him at email@example.com or 816-350-6313. Follow on Twitter @FoxEJC or @Jeff_Fox.