Missouri lawmakers want to cap state spending with constitutional amendment
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Missouri lawmakers want to cap state spending with constitutional amendment

Date: February 14, 2013
By: Alexander Mallin
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SJR 2

JEFFERSON CITY - Republicans in the state Capitol said Thursday that they want to change the Missouri Constitution to cap state spending and possibly lower the state income tax.

Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, told the Senate Ways and Means Committee that he wants voters to put a spending limit on the General Assembly. It would prevent the government from exceeding the budget of the previous fiscal year, with an adjustment for inflation.

Lager said its wrong for the legislature to encourage economic growth through tax cuts without addressing state spending.

"All too often in this building the philosophy of 'starve the beast' happens," Lager said. "If you don't limit spending all you're going to see is bigger problems down the road."

Lager said his proposal would ideally lead to Missouri eliminating the income tax, which he said would put it in better contention with its neighboring states.

"If we do not have the tools in place to at least be competitive at some point, we are going to lose economically," Lager said. "You can't just focus on the revenue side and think that we're going to make this journey. You also have to have a real and candid discussion about the cost side."

But Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, said changing the state Constitution would be too drastic of a step.

"To me the scary part of this is tying the hands of future legislatures to not be able to do what they may need to do," LeVota said.

Jay Hardenbrook, Policy Director of the liberal-leaning Missouri Budget Project, said the proposed amendment could endanger certain state programs by cutting too much too fast.

"We do have to address the spending side at the same time we're addressing the revenue side," Hardenbrook said. "But we need to do that with a scalpel and not a machete and we tend to think of this as more of a machete approach."

Hardenbrook said if this measure had passed last year, the state would have had to cut an additional $87 million from the budget in order to follow it.

Lager said that after working 11 years in the Missouri capitol, he has run out of ideas to keep government expansion under control.

"I don't have faith in elected officials," Lager said. "I have now painfully watched as both sides have grown the budget exponentially. I don't believe that's ever going to change. The only way we are going to slow the growth of government is when the people tell those who are elected, 'You can no longer do this'."

The amendment is still being heard in committee; if passed through the General Assembly voters would decide on it in 2014.

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