Editorial

STRONG ECONOMY BOOSTS STATE TAXES

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A strong economy has state revenue going through the roof yet again. Missouri's general revenue for the year ended June 30 rose a remarkably strong 7.29 percent and pushed the growth rate of state tax collections over the past 10 years to an all-time high of 86 percent.

In 1987, state taxpayers sent $3.3 billion in total revenue to Jefferson City, while in fiscal year 1997 the same figure reached $6.2 billion. In individual income taxes, the growth rate over 10 years has been 136 percent, from $1.4 billion in 1987 to $3.4 billion this past year, and this included an increase of 9.5 percent this past year over fiscal 96. Corporate income taxes have also more than doubled over the decade, rising from $217.5 million in fiscal 1987 to $471.5 million this past year.

Looking at these figures another way, the fiscal 1997 figure for individual income taxes alone is $85.3 million more than Missouri's entire general revenue fund received from all state taxes 10 years ago.

With numbers like these, Missourians will be watching the politicians closely. We'll be watching to see whether state government doesn't yet again break through the Hancock Amendment's limitation on total state revenue's not growing faster than personal income. It is beginning to look as though the state can afford another tax cut.

Taxpayers ought to be concerned. In periods of a strong economy, state revenue will go up without any increases in taxes. Yet Missourians have faced a variety of tax boosts, with the increase for education mandated by the Outstanding Schools Act of 1992 and increases in fuel taxes to pay for highway programs among the most significant.

Yes, there was a rollback of the three-cent state sales tax on food purchased at grocery stores that will go into effect Oct. 1. But this wasn't a generous act on the part of the Legislature and Gov. Mel Carnahan. It was a cut required by the Hancock amendment which limits growth in state revenue.

Based on the experience of recent years, the Hancock limits are likely to be exceeded again. Already taxpayers are owed more money than the cut in food sales taxes will produce.

It's time to have a sane plan that acknowledges the Hancock limits and establishes a systematic process for avoiding unnecessary tax collections in the first place.