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Suppose -- just suppose -- the elected leaders in your town got together and said, "Recycling is good, but recycling costs a lot of money. Let's have a tax of $310 on every resident of the city to pay for recycling. We will be able to have more recycling than anyone ever dreamed of. We will reform recycling as we know it. The recyclers will love us. The taxpayers probably won't like it, but tough. There's no law against a huge recycling tax, is there?" Well, not specifically. Oh, there is that Hancock Amendment that says something about voting on taxes and fees and so on, but no one really seems to know exactly what that amendment says. "So let's pass the $310 recycling tax and take our chances in court."

And so it came to pass -- you're still supposing, remember -- that your town adopted the $310-per-person tax, but it didn't kick in right away, so nobody fussed much about it. But as the day approached for the tax collector to come knocking on your door, you looked at your checking account and realized you were already paying an awful lot more in city taxes than the year before, and you didn't have $310 for recycling. But the collector took your mortgage payment and your grocery money anyway for recycling.

By golly, now you were angry -- don't you suppose anyone would be? -- and you decided to raise a stink. As a matter of fact, so many folks in your town were upset that the elected town leaders huddled again and said, "This recycling tax was a great idea, but, boy, there sure are a lot of angry voters out there. Do you think we might lose the next election because of this?" A lot of heads nodded up and down. "What can we do?"

The shrewd politicians said, "Let's pass a law that says we can never pass another $310 tax -- for recycling or anything else -- without a vote of the people." The politicians all looked at each other and smiled. "We'll be heroes. Come election time, the voters will think we were stalwart defenders of sane taxation. We will win easily." And then one of the town leaders had a stroke of genius. "Why don't we let the voters decide whether they want to ban $310 taxes? That way they will feel like they have had a say too."

All of the town leaders were wide-eyed, and their mouths were hanging open. "Wow!" one of them said. "The voters will love us for this."

Like all fables, this one has its foundation in the real world. When the Missouri Legislature passed a $310 million tax -- without voter approval -- for education in 1993, there was no statewide uprising of taxpaying voters. But as the tax kicked in and tax bills skyrocketed -- on top of ever-increasing taxes due to the general economic growth in the state -- the clamor for stiffer tax limits stiffend.

Gov. Mel Carnahan, the architect and chief builder of Senate Bill 380, otherwise known as the Outstanding Schools Act, wanted two things more than anything else: He wanted to give the powerful education lobby a huge funding increase, and he wanted to be re-elected in 1996. After SB 380 was adopted and signed into law, Carnahan was among those who heard the rumblings about the biggest tax increase in the state's history. So he turned to another powerful lobbying group, the Missouri Farm Bureau. Together they worked out a tax-limit plan to be put before the voters next April. This plan says the Legislature can't impose taxes and fees in any year that exceed $50 million or 1 percent of total stater revenue, whichever is less. Anything over those limits would require a vote of the people.

Carnahan and a lot of other politicians who want to be re-elected next year hope the voters are bamboozeled enough by all of this to think the governor is the chief guardian of taxpayers. He hopes he has placated educators and farmers enough that neither group will be a pest in his re-election bid.

But there are some problems with the plan. While it would prevent another tax bomb like SB 380, the proposed limit still permits tax increases without a vote of the people. And while $50 million is a known quantity, there are too many questions about what constitutes "total state revenue."

Most important, though, is the fact that Missourians are paying more taxes every year and will continue to do so without any new taxes being added. This is because the state is experiencing strong economic growth. As a result, individuals and businesses are paying more and more taxes. This past year Missourians paid 16 percent more in individual income taxes than the year before and 45 percent more in corporate income taxes, thanks in part to SB 380. Gambling revenue also swelled the state's revenue. All of the revenue is earmarked to be spent.

While many other states are considering tax cuts, Missouri is enjoying healthy revenue growth plus looking at a tax-limit cap that allows the Legislature and governor to impose even more taxes. Does this make sense?

It is hard to suggest that voters should oppose the proposed consitutitional amendment that will be on the ballot next April 2. After all, no one wants a repeat of SB 380. But what voters should be raising the roof over is a tax cut. A big tax cut. A tax cut that puts a stop to runaway state spending fueled by inflation and economic expansion. A tax cut that tells the Legislature and the governor to stop spending every available dollar just because it is there.

That would be a wonderful story to tell.