JEFFERSON CITY – Republican House leaders were looking confidently toward a showdown today over whether to enact an income tax cut, after the GOP-led Senate took the first step by voting to override the veto of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
The Senate's 23-8 party-line vote was just enough to meet the constitutional requirement of a two-thirds majority. For the override to succeed in the House, Republicans will need to vote as a block and get the support of at least one Democrat.
House Majority Leader John Diehl said he plans to hold the override vote today. Asked if he has enough votes to succeed, Diehl replied: "I do."
Diehl's comments came after Democratic Rep. Keith English, of suburban St. Louis, said Monday that he plans to vote for the tax cut. A union electrician, English said he was looking for ways to stimulate the economy.
"I have many co-workers within the electrical industry, residents in my district, they're looking for jobs," English said. If not a tax cut, "I don't know what else in the near future we can do to get the state moving."
The House override vote could have occurred Monday, but Republican leaders delayed it because all of their members were not present. Rep. Rick Brattin of Harrisonville was attending the funeral of his brother-in-law, who died in a car accident. Brattin was expected back at the Capitol today.
The legislation would gradually reduce Missouri's top individual income tax rate from 6 percent to 5.5 percent and phase in a new 25 percent deduction for business income reported on personal tax returns. The incremental tax cuts would begin in 2017, but each tax cut would occur only if state revenues continue to grow by at least $150 million over their high mark of the previous three years.
While vetoing the bill last week, Nixon denounced it as an "ill-conceived, fiscally irresponsible experiment" that could jeopardize funding for public education and state services. Many Democrats echoed those concerns Monday.
"This bill is designed to weaken our ability to pay for schools," said Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus. "It's designed to weaken our state government."
Republicans contend the tax cut will boost the economy and help Missouri compete with other states while still guarding against large hits to the state budget.
"This is a great bill that has protections in it, that's going to help move Missouri forward," said sponsoring Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit.
As the House began debate on the bill Monday evening, Rep. Andrew Koenig sought to assure colleagues that they could both cut taxes and meet the state's spending obligations.
"It is unlikely that any cuts will occur because of this bill to education," said Koenig, who's from the St. Louis suburb of Manchester.
The legislation also would increase a tax deduction for low-income residents and make annual adjustments to Missouri's tax brackets based on inflation, which could effectively result in perpetual tax cuts.
Missouri's tax cut is a less aggressive version of measures recently enacted in Kansas, which lowered its top tax rate and fully exempted certain categories of businesses from taxes.
Last week, Moody's Investors Service downgraded Kansas' credit rating, noting its sluggish economic recovery compared with other states. Kansas revenues declined in April. Among other things, Moody's said the income tax cuts were putting pressure on the budget and creating risk for the state's financial future.