Republican lawmakers in the Missouri Legislature made history this week overriding a record 10 vetoes by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
But there was little chest-thumping in the GOP camp after Wednesday’s veto session.
That’s because Republicans, who boast super-majorities in both chambers, failed to muster the necessary votes to thwart vetoes of two of their highest-profile bills.
One of those bills would have enacted Missouri’s first income tax rate reduction in more than 90 years. The other would have made Missouri home to the most far-reaching “hard-core” gun rights laws in the nation.
The Republican failures proved, as the Associated Press pointed out, that single-party legislative dominance is no guarantee of results.
They also proved that a majority may take a poorly drafted bill to the dance, but they may not ask her out again after somebody points out she is ugly.
The real winner in the Capitol this week was Nixon. Ten of his vetoes may have been overturned, but they mainly dealt with less consequential bills. He successfully defended his vetoes on the Republican’s marquee legislation against well-organized and financed opposition. That is the take-away from the veto session.
Nixon called the failed override attempts a “real defining moment.”
That might be a bit of an exaggeration, because when you get right down to it, at least with respect to taxes and guns, nothing has really changed. Missouri was a low-tax state before the tax cut bill was passed and vetoed and will remain a low-tax state.
The same is true of the state’s pro-gun disposition. Our current gun laws reflect that posture. Comparatively speaking, we live in a state that ranks in the top 10 with respect to laws that favor gun owners. Our prediction is that will never change. Despite claims to the contrary, no one is coming to take our guns in the Show-Me state.
The fact is both the gun bill and the tax-cut measure were overreaches — poorly drafted, misguided and riddled with unintended consequences. In the end, that’s why the vetoes weren’t overridden. Nixon called the bills unnecessary and misguided. The outcome of the veto session supported these claims.
That is especially true of the gun bill, which would have prevented the enforcement of federal gun laws in the state.
Some called the measure the most poorly drafted bill the Legislature ever produced. It was clearly unconstitutional because of the way it was written, which many legislators conceded, even though they voted in favor of it originally.
When various groups pointed out the absurdity of some of its provisions, lawmakers claimed that in their haste to pass the bill, they hadn’t read it carefully enough but pledged to fix the problems when they reconvened next session.
But when law enforcement officials started expressing concern that the bill could prevent local and federal law enforcement officials from working together, some lawmakers got nervous.
The veto override was successful in the House, but two top Republicans killed it in the Senate citing the constitutional problems.
The income tax cut bill also had drafting problems. The bill, which would have cut personal income, corporate and business taxes, also contained a provision that would have ended an exemption for sales tax on prescription drugs. That provision cost a few Republican votes. There was also an issue, because of the way the bill was written, as to whether it would trigger tax refunds for the past three years, further depleting state revenues.
But the real opposition to the bill came from the education community. Over 100 school boards across the state, and including some in Franklin County, passed resolutions opposing the bill out of a fear of its potential to reduce education funding.
Republicans blamed Nixon for playing politics with the bill when he withheld an education funding appropriation earlier this summer.
They had a point, but the debate surrounding the potential veto override served to highlight the issues over education funding. Missouri has slipped from 31st to 41st in the nation in per-student expenditure over the past 10 years. The prospect of a further slide influenced the unsuccessful override vote.
GOP lawmakers and the business groups that poured millions into supporting the tax-cut bill pledged to try again next session. Likewise, there will be another gun-rights bill introduced next session.
Going forward, there are lessons to be learned for the GOP in the wake of the veto session. Republicans would be wise to consider a more careful approach to these two issues. A more measured and thoughtfully crafted bill on either front could have overcome Nixon’s veto.
But the other issues aren’t going away either. It’s never an easy sell to reduce taxes when you are already underfunding education and infrastructure. The state has reduced taxes by over a billion dollars over the last 15 years. As Sen. Jolie Justus put it, “If that’s all it took to generate jobs and the economy we’d be there already.” She has a point.
Nixon has demonstrated his willingness to reduce the size of government spending and his Second Amendment bona fides. There is room for compromise on tax cuts, education spending and guns.