The Associated Press
Southeast Missourian, May 19
Improving technology has created endless fuel for the public-privacy debates of our time.
We live in a surveillance society with the government and private sectors watching our movements. Whether it’s Google or Facebook tracking our online habits for profitable reasons, or the government tracking our whereabouts, there is perhaps less privacy now than ever before in our country’s history.
As easy as it may be to sound the Orwellian alarms, there are sensible and appropriate benefits to having better technology. Reporter Erin Ragan recently reported that Cape Girardeau’s police force has obtained license plate scanners that track the whereabouts of vehicles moving about the city.
The correct use of this technology can help keep the public safe, save lives and even find children who have been kidnapped. Cape Girardeau police have used the system in more than 15 cases that led to arrests. The system also has been used as an aide to identify potential suspects and witnesses in the investigation of a Dec. 16 deadly shooting. Gas thieves have been caught.
If you’re a victim of a crime, you would want this technology available.
The problem is such technology can easily be abused. This technology could be used in any number of ways that are not appropriate. What if a police officer suspects his wife is having an affair? Would it be tempting to find out where she has been going?
The computer being used to store license plate information falls under city and department computer policy, which is very detailed in how it can be used and for what purpose. Officers cannot manipulate any information they download from the system for use in an investigation or to turn in for court evidence.
Unfortunately, there are several incidents that make us pause before putting complete trust in the government to handle such information appropriately.
In 2004, The Boston Globe reported that police tracked a Canadian reporter via the license scans after he wrote articles critical of the local traffic division. A senior officer admitted to inappropriately searching for the reporter’s vehicle in a license scan database in an attempt to catch the reporter driving drunk.
It was recently uncovered that the IRS targeted conservative political groups with audits during a presidential election. We also learned the government secretly obtained two months of phone records of Associated Press journalists who broke stories pertaining to a foiled terror plot. Closer to home, there is an ongoing controversy about scanned documentation dealing with conceal-carry permits being shared with federal officials who wanted to investigate Social Security fraud.
It’s not the technology that’s the problem. It’s the power that is associated with the technology.
In terms of license plate scanners in Cape Girardeau, we see how valuable the technology can be in solving crimes, enforcing the law and keeping the public safe. But there needs to be internal scrutiny and tough penalties to protect the privacy rights of law-abiding individuals.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 18
Corporate tax-cut bill
Now that the Missouri Legislature mercifully has adjourned for the year, Gov. Jay Nixon should waste no time in vetoing House Bill 253, the final iteration of the unfair, unwise and unproductive session-long effort to cut state income tax rates.
In some ways, HB 253 is less odious than earlier versions of the tax-cut proposal. It would not, for example, replace revenue lost to the income-tax cut with revenue raised by higher sales taxes. That means poor and working-class Missourians wouldn’t be dinged — again — to pay for tax breaks given to wealthier Missourians and corporations.
On the other hand, after 10 years, the annual price tag for the bill would be anywhere from $700 million to $817 million. That’s money that would not be spent on schools, higher education, corrections or any of the other niceties that smart states invest in.
The bill’s supporters insist that annual safeguards — or “triggers” — included in the legislation would keep the cuts from kicking in unless state revenue has risen $100 million. State revenues will grow, they say, just not as fast as they would if HB 253 hadn’t been passed.
This growth is predicated on a boom in business activity that supporters expect once people figure out how tax-friendly Missouri has become. There is little objective data to support that conclusion and quite a bit to suggest that tax rates are not a critical factor in business location or expansion decisions.
HB 253 would reduce the top personal income tax rate from 6 percent to 5.5 percent. Everyone in Missouri who earns at least $9,000 a year pays the 6 percent top rate. The graduated income tax was adopted in 1931; at the time, very few people earned $9,000 a year — equal to $137,682 today. Missouri essentially has a flat tax rate, one big reason for its poor state services and benighted economic condition.
The basic corporate income tax rate for so-called “C-corporations” — generally public companies — would be cut from 6.25 percent to 3.25 percent. The cuts would be phased in over 10 years as long as revenue growth “triggers” were pulled.
The big winners under HB 253 would be so-called “pass-through” corporations organized under subchapter S of the Internal Revenue Service code or as partnerships, limited-liability firms (in some instances) or sole proprietorships. These firms “pass through” their corporate income to individual owners or owners, where it is taxed as individual income.
IRS data show that some 82 percent of all U.S. companies are organized as pass-throughs. This enables them to avoid federal corporate income tax. If HB 253 becomes law, they’ll see their Missouri income taxes cut by 50 percent.
Result: The owners of a pass-through corporation eventually would be paying a Missouri income tax rate of 3.25 percent on their income; in some cases, the rate would be as low as 3.125 percent. The people who clean the office toilets will be paying 5.5 percent.
Even as the Legislature is bending over backward to give a break to pass-through companies, Congress has begun to realize that such firms have an unfair advantage over C-corporations that have to pay the 35 percent federal rate. With tax shelters, credits and other forms of legal tax evasion, few companies actually pay as much as the 35 percent rate, but it’s the thought that counts.
Pass-through owners argue that taxing their corporate income, and then turning around and taxing their personal income, amounts to double taxation. It does. That’s fair.
Corporations create multiple public costs that the individual taxes of their owners don’t begin to pay for. Like the rest of us, they’re protected by the most expensive military on earth. Their employees are educated in public schools. Their goods are shipped on public highways. Laws are enforced for them. Nearly all of the state and federal civil court systems exist to litigate their disputes. It goes on.
It simply makes no sense that they get a free (or cheaper) ride on income taxes. In Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people when it comes to funding elections. They ought to be people when it comes to paying taxes, too.
HB 253 is a pure corporate welfare bill. Veto it, governor.
The Kansas City Star, May 17
Failure and inertia in Jefferson City
How else to explain another session ending without a jobs plan or a strategy for funding transportation projects? How else to explain a legislature that allowed bountiful debate time for a host of preposterous gun-rights bills but never got around to seriously discussing Medicaid reform and expansion?
“I believe the General Assembly is no longer capable of dealing with tough issues,” Sen. Brad Lager, a Republican from Savannah, said Friday as the 2013 session ground to a close.
He is right. Showboating and political pandering have supplanted accomplishment in the Missouri legislature.
By not seriously considering Medicaid expansion, Republicans passed up the chance to help 260,000 low-income working Missourians, turned away $1.8 billion in federal money for next year’s budget and scoffed at an opportunity to create thousands of jobs. More thoughtful Republican-controlled state legislatures used expansion as a chance to change Medicaid in ways that should result in healthier citizens. Missouri didn’t even get around to appointing a study committee, but it should.
Business and political leaders in Kansas City are still waiting for legislative tools to either compete against Kansas in the economic development “border war” or, even better, declare a truce.
A job-creating bond issue for construction and repair of public buildings proved too complex for the Missouri Senate. So did an overhaul of the state’s criminal statutes.
Proposals to clean up Missouri’s tawdry political culture with limits on campaign contributions and curbs on lobbyist spending went nowhere. Gov. Jay Nixon should carry through on the pledge he made in his State-of-the-State address to lead a movement for a ballot initiative on ethics reform.
While neglecting important business, lawmakers entertained one gun proposal after another. They passed legislation declaring federal gun laws unenforceable in Missouri, lowering the age for legal concealed carry from 21 to 19 and allowing schools to designate employees who are permitted to carry weapons.
The legislature couldn’t get around to revamping tax credit programs, which drain millions of dollars from the state treasury. But Republicans imitated Kansas by cutting income taxes without a way to offset the losses. Their bill, if it becomes law, would take as much as $817 million a year from a state that cheats its own school financing formula.
By the end of the session, lawmakers and the governor were feuding over whether to take money away from low-income renters or disabled children. A state that backs itself into that corner cannot afford to be giving away money in income tax cuts.
The session drew to a merciful close on Friday, with legislative leaders boasting about all they’d accomplished.
Their expectations are low. It was a productive session for gun owners and wealthy individuals who would benefit from income tax cuts. For most everybody else, the session was a bust.
Missouri deserves better than what it gets from this legislature.
The Springfield News-Leader, May 15
Nixon’s veto packs punch
Gov. Jay Nixon has landed a strategic counterpunch to the legislature’s recent budget jab.
In a halfhearted effort at tax credit reform, the Republican-led legislature last Thursday passed along a budget item that would end a tax credit provided to low-income elderly and disabled citizens who rent their homes. The money saved from that move would then fund First Steps, a program that provides services to children with disabilities.
That move effectively pitted the elderly against children, leaving the governor in a position to pick sides. If he vetoed the bill, he would be siding with the elderly. If he allowed it to go through, he would be siding with the children.
Instead, the governor balanced his stance on both feet and swung at the legislature, while embracing both age groups.
He vetoed the bill Tuesday, pointing out that it included no meaningful tax credit reform.
We agree. So far, the legislature has done almost nothing about concerns over runaway tax credits that cut into the general budget while sometimes failing to prove they result in economic benefits.
But the governor didn’t take that action until he had firmly put those children and their families in his corner of the ring. Nixon began a campaign-style tour of the state, including Springfield, to speak out on behalf of the First Steps program.
He pointed out that his own proposed budget had included both the tax credit and the $20 million needed to fund the First Steps program, which offers a variety of services to families with children, from birth through age 3, who have disabilities or developmental delays.
At each stop he surrounded himself with mothers and children in the program to make it clear that he would not abandon them. “…First Steps must be funded now and funded in full,” he said in Springfield — but not before saying he would not tolerate abandoning needy seniors, either.
Nixon made it clear that he views the legislature’s move as a “ploy” to back him against the ropes. Instead, he did a lot of fancy footwork to turn that advantage around.
This is an unnecessary fight. Yes, we need to find ways to cut spending and balance our state budget. Yes, we need to support programs that benefit those who most need our help and support tax credits that work to spur our economy. And we need to restrict programs and tax credits that fail to meet those standards. …