JEFFERSON CITY - Opponents of a tax deduction for private school students unsuccessfully tried to remove it from the Senate's major tax-cut bill Wednesday.
Sens. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, and Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico, led the charge against the provision, which would allow up to a $2,500 state income tax deduction for school expenses for students in grades 9-12.
For eligible parents at the state's top income tax bracket of 6 percent, it would mean a $150 reduction of their state income taxes owed. The estimated cost to the state is $8 million per year.
Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler, said it's wrong to redistribute money to a select few who have children in private high schools.
"Although there is some pretext it applies to public schools, it doesn't," Caskey said. "It really only applies to private and parochial schools."
Jacob said parents of public school students, like himself, don't have to pay school for tuition and transportation expenses and therefore couldn't claim the deduction.
He and Maxwell offered several amendments that tied up the Senate for nearly its entire session.
All three of Jacob's amendments failed by a few votes. Two of his amendments would have replaced the school-expenses deduction with a raise in the dependency deduction from $800 to $1,200 or given a $2,500 deduction for all parents with children in grades 9-12.
Sen. John Schneider, D-Florissant, is a supporter of the school-expenses deduction. During floor debate, Schneider said Jacob has "a disturbed brain."
"You don't just pick people [in grades] 9-12 and give them a deduction because they exist," Schneider said.
Jacob's third amendment would have allowed parents to deduct the cost of clothes bought for their children.
"I don't understand how anyone could be opposed to this amendment," he said.
Sen. Harry Wiggins, D-Kansas City, is the sponsor of the bill. He opposed all of Jacob's amendments because he does not favor raising the cost of the bill beyond its current $71 million.
"We have gone from sublime to ridiculous," he said in reference to Jacob's proposed clothes deduction.
Maxwell tried twice to replace the school-expenses deduction. His attempt to instead expand deductions for contributions to nonprofit groups, including churches, failed 19-14. Debate on his second amendment, which would give deductions for early childhood education expenses, will continue Thursday morning.
"I am trying to treat everyone the same," Maxwell said. "I'm not trying to kill this bill."
Throughout the five-hour debate, the Senate passed only one amendment, which would exempt certain home health-care equipment from sales taxes.
After adjournment, Wiggins expressed frustration the Senate had "spent all this time on part of a bill that amounts to $8 million and in no way affects public education."
Wiggins said it's possible the Senate would finish work on amendments Thursday and give the bill first-round approval.
"Everybody wants to go home on Thursday at noon," he said.
Wiggins' bill is likely to be the legislature's largest tax cut this year. A property tax cut supported by Gov. Mel Carnahan was approved by the House Ways & Means Committee Feb. 11 but has not been placed on the debate calendar by House Speaker Steve Gaw, D-Moberly.
Gaw, a sponsor of the House bill, said Wednesday while tax relief is a priority this session, he's not sure at this stage that bill would be the vehicle for it.
Legislators are trying to cut taxes by about $120 million this session to comply with the state constitution's revenue limit.