Local officials share concerns over legislative actions during Nixon’s Fulton visit

Gov. Jay Nixon talks to a crowd gathered inside Fulton High School on Aug. 1 during a visit to address concerns over vetoed bills. Linda Luebbering, Missouri Budget Director, presented comparison estimates between the Department of Revenue and the Legislative Oversight Committee on the legislation's financial effects.

Gov. Jay Nixon talks to a crowd gathered inside Fulton High School on Aug. 1 during a visit to address concerns over vetoed bills. Linda Luebbering, Missouri Budget Director, presented comparison estimates between the Department of Revenue and the Legislative Oversight Committee on the legislation's financial effects. Photo by Brittany Ruess.

Gov. Jay Nixon visited Fulton on Friday to discuss with local officials the effects of legislation he believes give more than a dozen tax breaks to special interests groups.

These exemptions have been the source of worry for officials in Callaway County and other municipalities across the state after the Department of Revenue released figures showing a revenue loss for Missouri’s local governments totaling at about $351 million.

According to DOR’s estimates, Callaway County would lose more than $400,000 and the City of Fulton would see a loss of more than $300,000.

Nixon vetoed the bills of concern, but the legislation could still become law if the General Assembly overrides the vetoes come September.

Local leaders react to Gov. Nixon's 'tax break' bills (includes legislation summaries)

The roundtable discussion Friday was held at Fulton High School and also highlighted how Nixon believes the exemptions could hurt Prop C funding — a measure passed in 1982 that outlined a 1-cent additional sales tax for schools.

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Fulton Mayor Leroy Benton listens as Chris Pieper, Gov. Jay Nixon's senior legal and policy adviser, gives details on bills that he said would give businesses tax exemptions and damage local and state revenues. Pieper, Nixon and Missouri Budget Director Linda Luebbering visited Fulton on Friday to address the topic.

Nixon said Prop C money provides $920 per student per year regardless of location in the state or school performance. If the General Assembly overrides Nixon’s vetoes, he said that figure will decrease by $104.

For Fulton Public Schools, that means a $247,000 loss, which Superintendent Jacque Cowherd equated to 4.5 teachers.

“If we had to go to our community today and ask to replace that, that’s a 13-and-1/4-cent tax levy increase,” Cowherd said.

Cowherd added that local voters approved all Prop C funds to go to the school, which doesn’t allow for any tax adjustments, therefore resulting in no option for fallback.

The Callaway County Commission and City of Fulton Mayor LeRoy Benton and City Administrator Bill Johnson were also vocal about how the bills would harm the area.

Callaway County Presiding Commissioner Gary Jungermann said $400,000 — the same number the DOR estimated would be cut from the county — is taken from the general revenue fund in order to maintain roads and bridges throughout Callaway.

Doc Kritzer, western district commissioner, added that some counties are able to fall back on a property sales tax increase, but that’s not the case for Callaway, leaving “no way to recover these losses.”

Missouri Budget Director Linda Luebbering said DOR estimates and those of the Legislative Oversight Committee may not be the same, but they are “amazingly close.”

The DOR estimates the bills will cost the state $751 million and local governments $351 million, while the Legislative Oversight Committee projects a total loss of $514 million and $223 million for local governments.

Benton, Johnson, the commission and the Holts Summit Board of Alderman (through a resolution supporting Nixon’s vetoes) have echoed each other in that they don’t want any state legislature-imposed cuts to occur locally.

“I don’t think anybody (in the General Assembly) really understood the fiscal impact. But, now that the two numbers have come out, we don’t really know which number’s right. We don’t care. Any effect is too much. But now that there is a known negative effect … I’m hoping that this General Assembly will support the communities and the citizens and let the veto stand,” Johnson said.

Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, said in a statement to the Fulton Sun that the “financial implications that have been suggested by the Governor’s administration and other special interest groups do not exist in the vast majority of the bills that are being discussed.”

She added that Nixon’s “media stunt” in her district does not affect her “long-standing policy on legislative affairs.”

“Governor Nixon only visits my district when it is politically opportunistic,” Riddle wrote. “This is the same as his engagement in legislative issues that govern our state; he only does it when it is politically feasible for him.”

In the statement, Riddle states her commitment to addressing the bills that could affect Callaway County’s local governments and that she “will take action that best protects our communities and taxpayers.”

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