A bill in the Missouri General Assembly this year would tell local communities how high their sales taxes can be. A similar bill died last year. This one should too.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Andrew Koenig of Manchester, says rightly that a quarter-cent here and and a tenth of a cent there adds up. But he’s flat wrong in saying there’s “not really a good method for keeping a lid on things.”
That method is the ballot box. For instance, Blue Springs voters said yes to a parks tax a couple years ago. Independence voters have said yes, repeatedly, to taxes for streets, parks and public safety. But voters in both cities last year said no to extending sales taxes to online purchases. Independence voters said no a few years ago to a property tax for police. The voters are no rubber stamp.
Yes, sales taxes are problematic. They’re regressive, hitting the poor and the middle class harder than others. That point is too easily overlooked in most discussion of politics and policy in our state, but the General Assembly for years has consistently, consciously shifted Missouri toward greater reliance on sales taxes.
Koenig’s bill doesn’t address the state’s considerable cut in this – 4.225 percent. It would limit local taxes on top of that to 7.275 percent, or 11.5 percent total. That’s a level Eastern Jackson County communities fall well under. Even the priciest parts of Independence – along Noland Road and the commercial area near I-70 and Missouri 291 where special taxing districts collect for specific projects – still come in under 9 percent total.
This, however, is about legislators in Jefferson City saying they know local communities’ best interests better than those communities themselves do.
Let’s break this down using Independence an example. Start with the 4.225 percent state tax rate and Jackson County’s 1 percent for general services. Now add the county’s taxes for the zoo, anti-drug programs, children’s services and to pay off the bonds to refurbish Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums a decade ago – all of those approved by county voters.
Then Independence takes one penny on the dollar for general services. Now add taxes from one-eighth to one-half cent each for parks, streets, police, fire and stormwater control – again, all approved by voters.
That’s a total – state, county and city – of 7.85 percent for Independence. Blue Springs and Grain Valley are each higher, 8.6 percent.
So again, communities here seem unlikely to bump up against Koenig’s cap, but they also have few other good options if a new community need or goal arises. In any event, the voters decide.
The General Assembly has for years kept the state on a course of low taxes, low services and low community investment. That’s problematic for the state’s long-term vibrancy, but local communities have made their own decisions about the level of services – roads, parks, public safety, libraries, zoos, even stadiums – that they want and are willing to pay for that.
There’s been quite enough of our do-little-or-nothing General Assembly telling voters they’re not allowed to do anything either. It’s antidemocratic, and it’s poor policy.