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Lobbyist Money Help  

High court hears Hancock refund arguments

December 04, 1997
By: Joe Stange
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - In a matter of weeks, the Show-Me State could show you the money -- but only if the state Supreme Court sides with the administration on two cases heard Thursday.

Gov. Mel Carnahan's chief of staff Brad Ketcher said the first wave checks could be cut and mailed within the next few months.

The printing of the checks is being held in lieu of two high court decisions, which each focus on a different end of the refund process.

State Auditor Margaret Kelly's suit contends the administration office has miscalculated revenue. She insists the Hancock refunds should be three to four times higher than the administration's $695 million three-year figure.

Ketcher said "It would be devastating," if the court sides with the auditor, whose calculations are more than $2 billion higher.

Mark Ward, the administration's budget director, said Kelly's figures include "phantom accounting entities that don't have any cash behind them."

Ward said Kelly's numbers would require a 40 percent budget cut next fiscal year, and "everything would have to be on the table for cuts at that magnitude."

He included education, prisons and health among the departments that would feel the crunch.

Former U.S. Rep. Mel Hancock, the namesake of the disputed amendment, attended the hearings. He said the auditor's numbers were probably more accurate, and the administration should have been prepared for the situation.

"Actually, I think they've been in violation of it since 1984," he said.

Hancock said the administration's claims of budget devastation were "strictly politics."

"Let the chips fall where they may," he said. "Let's abide by the constitution. The government's not going to shut down, I assure you of that."

A collection of taxpayer groups filed the other suit, claiming the Hancock amendment is unfair because it only sends the refunds back to income taxpayers, and not to all taxpayers.

In a state where 40 percent of the state's revenue is raised by sales tax, the groups contend just refunding to income earners is unfair to the lower class.

"It's Robin Hood in reverse," said Peter DeSimone, head of Missourians for Tax Justice.

Ketcher said the administration's concern was with the law.

"It may not be the fairest way to refund the money, but it's the appropriate way...the constitutional way," he said.

The judges gave no indication as to when they would have a decision.

Ketcher said the Revenue Department is prepared to send out two checks to each income taxpayer.

The first check would be written for an average amount of $101, and would cover the 1995 and 1996 fiscal years.

The second check, written for an average of $76, would refund the 1997 revenue surplus and be mailed by fall of next year.

Ward said he didn't know how long the checks would be postponed if the calculations change because of a loss in court.

Appeals to the federal court system could delay the checks even longer.