State Funding At Risk

A resolution urging the state Legislature to sustain the veto of House Bill 253 was passed unanimously Wednesday morning by the Washington School Board.

The resolution states HB 253 would reduce state revenue by more than $800 million and jeopardize the state’s ability to provide adequate funding to public schools for years to come. It also noted that the state’s foundation formula is already underfunded by about $600 million.

The resolution goes on to state the measure would jeopardize the state’s ability to fund other critical services and threatens the credit rating of Missouri.

School officials noted that Missouri already has one of the lowest state tax burdens in the nation.

The Washington School District stands to lose upward of $851,684 if the General Assembly overrides Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto when it reconvenes Sept. 14. Both the House and Senate would be required to vote.

Statewide, public schools would lose as much as $450 million this school year, plus $260 million annually if the override is successful.

The bill would reduce tax rates for individuals and corporations and create a new deduction for business income reported on individual tax returns.

Legislative projections estimated the bill would reduce state revenues by more than $700 million annually after it is fully implemented. Some of the tax cuts are contingent upon growth in state revenues.

Gov. Jay Nixon says the annual cost would be higher and as much as $1.2 billion in the short term, based upon other provisions in the legislation.

The tax cut was a priority for the Republican-led Legislature and would be the first income tax rate reduction in Missouri since 1921.

Supporters of the tax cut have started a campaign to encourage lawmakers to override the veto, forming the Grow Missouri coalition. Opponents have formed the Coalition for Missouri’s Future and include education, labor and health care organizations.

Not Good for Kids

Washington Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer told the board she doesn’t want to “get into the politics” of the bill, but rather the facts. And the bottom line, she said, is the district will lose a significant amount of money at a time when assessed values have dropped and the district is faced with other declining revenue sources.

“This bill would devastate public schools . . . and guess who picks up that deficit — the taxpayer,” said VanLeer.

Board President Scott Byrne agreed, saying many school districts, especially those that receive more state aid than Washington, will have some very difficult budget decisions to make if the veto is overridden.

“And we may be one of them too,” he said.

Board member Dan Contarini, a police officer in De Soto, pointed out HB 253 not only hurts schools, but includes a tax increase on prescription drugs and would decrease funding for mental health services which puts an increased burden on law enforcement.

Only one board member, Trish Mitchell, who was elected in April, said the bill might have some merit; however, in the end she voted to pass the resolution.

Mitchell said State Rep. Paul Curtman had supplied her with some information on the benefits of the measure if others wanted to read it.

Contarini and Byrne reiterated that the bill is not good for public education, which has been underfunded for more than a decade.

“I’m all for tax decreases . . . but there a lot of unintended consequences with this and it has not been thought through,” Contarini said.

VanLeer also provided the board with a fact sheet on HB 253 and other materials explaining the triggers and protections of the bill.

The superintendent said it was the board’s decision on whether to pass a resolution, but she urged them to look at the bill through neutral lenses, not as a Democrat or Republican, but as a school board member who is charged with making the best decisions for kids.

VanLeer added that if the veto is overridden, the administration and board will have to make some tough decisions on how to absorb the loss.

“All of our revenue sources are going down, and yet, we are being asked to do more than ever,” she said. “This measure would be devastating to us and limit any new programs we want to implement, like more science and technology.”

Override ‘Uphill Battle’

Republican House speaker Tim Jones acknowledged Tuesday that getting enough votes to override Nixon’s veto is an “uphill battle,” but said he still hopes to do so, according to the Associated Press.

However, he said no final decision has been made and that Republicans will be meeting in August.

A successful override would require the vote of every Republican House member or support from some of Nixon’s fellow Democrats.