"Are Missouri residents willing to vote tax increases to fund these services?"
On this day when taxes are on our collective minds, it seems appropriate that the state of Missouri is this week facing the most critical financial crisis in history. Before the week is over, legislators will decide on just how to handle a $700 million shortfall in state revenues. I believe that many state services will be cut or reduced. But those cuts will most likely not be enough so look for a tax increase proposal to come before voters. What form that tax hike might take remains uncertain.
The GOP-led legislature has asked each state department to outline the impact of a funding cut ranging from 13-15 percent. But the early impact of that sizable cut is just now coming into the headlines. For example:
. The Department of Mental Health says that 8,500 residents would be denied substance abuse treatment
. The Division of Mental Retardation would have to drop services for 5,800 people
. Fewer hospital beds being available and hundreds of staff positions eliminated are just part of the predictions.
But the bottom line remains the same. Are Missouri residents willing to vote tax increases to fund these services? Or do most Missourians feel these services are important but not important enough to justify another tax increase? It's now up to the legislature to arrive at the answer.
One thing is virtually certain. Any tax increase - other than fee hikes - will almost certainly go before voters. But that scenario may never arrive because the legislature may sense little support for a tax hike of any kind and reduce services through state spending on their own. I'm convinced the lawmakers will cut much more deeply than they are today but a tax proposal may still be needed.
Missouri voters need to pay close attention because the state budget for next year is about as grim as the current year. That means future tax ideas will surface and more cuts will be likely. Until the cuts impact more Missourians, I doubt a tax hike of any size would be approved. If the cuts start hitting home, then it becomes a different story.
It's no small task to whittle $700 million even in a $16 billion budget. Much of that state spending is beyond the control of the legislature. For now department heads in state government had better present their best case. The legislature is in no mood for games such as those played earlier this year by the Holden gang. It's time to cut and cut deeply. Then and only then can we see if more revenue is needed.
The lesson for state government remains the same. Live within your budget because voters aren't likely to raise your allowance. Most Missourians handle their personal household budgets that way and it's time for the state to do the same.