The Missouri General Assembly is in its final two and a half weeks of this year’s session, and as usual much remains to get done. It’s not at all clear that some of the more important issues it faces will be substantively addressed at all.
Somewhere in that mix is an effort to rejigger tax rules to come in line with a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that opens the door more widely for states to collect sales taxes on purchases their residents make from out-of-state companies.
As it stands, according to Missouri Municipal League Deputy Director Richard Sheets, the collection of those taxes is far from uniformly applied.
“Missourians are paying it, but some Missourians are, some Missourians aren’t. It’s not fair to business,” he told local elected leaders and other officials recently at a gathering in Blue Springs.
He said the MML is trying to get a bill passed, and he said Missouri would be behind the eight-ball – not for the first time, one might add – if nothing happens.
“There’s actually a fair chance we’ll get something done along those lines,” said state Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit.
Local officials expressed a related and more specific concern. It’s what they said is the need for clearer language to approve a “use tax,” that is, collecting the same sales tax whether you pick up a new jacket at Target or buy it online and have UPS drop it off. More than 100 Missouri cities and counties have adopted that policy, but voters in Blue Springs and Independence last year said no.
The ballot language, dictated by the General Assembly, was seen as a big barrier to passage.
“And people were just confused,” Blue Springs Mayor Carson Ross said. “They thought they were going to be double taxed.”
Officials describe two problems, and they have a good point. One is that every purchase delivered by UPS is lost local tax revenue, even as UPS trucks tear up city streets. It’s a significant reason cities are finding it harder and harder to keep up with basic services. The other side is that brick-and-mortar retailers – many locally owned businesses fall into that category – are put at a competitive disadvantage. In Eastern Jackson County, tax or no tax is a difference of about $45 on a $600 TV, for example.
Some in Blue Springs have called for going to the ballot again, but Ross added a caution.
“It doesn’t make any sense to take it to the people until that language is changed,” he said.
It’s unclear if the General Assembly is in the mood to hear the cities’ concern.
Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at 816-350-6365 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s on Twitter at @FoxEJC.