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Tax-Cut Pressure Mounts

April 16, 1996
By: Dana Coleman
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - An unusual combination of welfare advocates and Republicans mounted campaigns to put pressure on the legislature's Democratic leaders to get moving on giving Missourians a tax cut.

Representatives of both groups say they want Rep. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, to bring his bill that would reduce the state sales tax on groceries by one and three-quarters percent. But the bill is held up in political grid lock.

The bill was reported to the full House more than two months ago, but has not been brought up for debate or a vote.

As the legislative session draws closer to its May 17 adjournment, time is running out to pass a tax cut before the general election in November.

"I am still trying to come up with a last-month strategy," Jacob said. "I am waiting to hear from the Governor's office."

Republicans complain that Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Mel Carnahan won't bring the bill up because they are trying to forge a behind-the-scenes agreement between the two parties that would guarantee that no amendments be added to the bill.

The governor is concerned that the bill would get weighted down with amendments that would favor special interest groups, said Chris Sifford, the governor's spokesperson.

"It is not our intent to stifle debate," Sifford said. "But we are not optimistic that the bill will go to the floor."

Jacob said some legislators could try to amend the bill to favor private pensioners and other special interests.

Still, House GOP Leader Mark Richardson, R-Cape Girardeau, called the Democrats' attempt to keep the debate off the floor "Griffinesque," referring to former Speaker of the House Bob Griffin's reputation for making behind the scenes deals with lawmakers to pass legislation.

"This is symptomatic of a bigger problem. The problem of the iron fist of control held by the Democrats. First with Bob Griffin, and now with the Governor." Richardson said. "We have not had a fair debate on this."

"The governor is afraid that this body (of lawmakers) might do something he doesn't want us to do," Richardson said.

Richardson said he wants the bill to come up for debate on the floor. So does Rosalyn Turner, of St. Louis County, a single working mother of two teenagers. She spends about 10 percent of the income she earns as a nurse's assistant on food, she said.

Turner rallied at the Capitol on Tuesday in support of Jacob's bill. One of the issues at hand is that Jacob's bill would reduce the sales tax on groceries by one-and-three-quarters of a cent, but some Republicans say the tax should be cut by three cents.

The governor's original proposal for an across-the-board cut in the sales tax would have reduced state revenues by $140 million per year.

Jacob and other Democrats warn a three-cent reduction in the sales tax on food would take a much bigger bite out of state revenues. One economist put the price tag at $240 million per year.