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Tax Lid Mired in Partisan Debate

State Capitol Bureau

May 10, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ Bipartisan support for a tax-limitation amendment didn't prevent the issue from becoming mired in partisan squabbling in the state Senate.

Senators gave nearly unanimous approval early Wednesday (May 10) to the amendment, which would require a popular vote for any tax increase of more than $50 million or 1 percent of state revenue.

The bill still needs to get final approval from the House before going to the governor's desk. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ken Jacob said he expects the House to take up the issue Thursday.

The conservative Farm Bureau first proposed the idea, which quickly won endorsement from the governor. Republicans have long made clear their desire for tax limitation.

But Republicans say the governor co-opted a GOP demand when voters swung to the right in last fall's election.

Democrats are now championing tax limits to provide "political cover," said the Senate's ranking Republican.

"Obviously, there is an effort here to blur the lines," said Senate Minority Floor Leader Franc Flotron, R-St. Louis County. "There's a good deal of lack of earnestness going on with this issue."

Flotron, a probable candidate for governor in 1996, noted that Carnahan opposed the proposed Hancock II amendment. Hancock II would have required Missourian to vote on every tax increase. Voters defeated the initiative 2-1 last November.

Republican senators also said Democrats pushed a $300 million tax increase through the legislature in 1993 after the governor had vowed to bring the issue to a vote. The tax hike would have faced a referendum under the tax-limitation amendment now promoted by the governor.

"This is political cover for promises that were made and not kept," Flotron said.

Before taking a final vote on the proposal at about 1 a.m. Wednesday, Republican senators offered amendment after amendment. The Senate defeated each, consistently voting along party lines.

Senate President Pro Tem Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia, asked why Republicans didn't offer the amendments when the proposal was before the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

He suggested the governor's foes were using the more public forum of the Senate floor debate to gather political ammunition for the 1996 election.

"There is a strange phenomenon going on here tonight and I believe it's well planned," he said. "If you don't like what happened here, why the hell don't you just vote no?"

The governor's spokesman said Carnahan's support for both the $300 million Outstanding Schools Act as well as the tax-limitation amendment does not present a double standard.

"We are talking about two separate issues," Chris Sifford said. "Now, who is politicizing the issue? They didn't have the guts to vote against the amendment."

Democrats backed the governor's proposal to put the amendment on the ballot. It's not clear, however, whether they will push for the amendment's ultimate passage. Voters will decide on the proposed constitutional change.

Asked if he supports tax limitation, Mathewson _ who sheparded the amendment through the Senate _ brought a note of levity to the five-hour floor debate.

"You don't want me to answer that," he quipped.

Moments later, in the Senate gallery, Mathewson insisted his comment was made in jest. "I was just joking," he said.