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When Political Rhetoric Meets Political Reality

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Welcome to the game of  "Damned if  You Do, Damned if You Don’t"  

Here are the rules.

You have to follow the law.

You have to play the political game.

You have a job.  It pays you about $105,000 a year until at least January 23, 2012. 

You want to keep your job.

You have to play the political game if you want to keep your job.

If you play the political game you have to turn a blind eye to the law.

If you turn a blind eye to the law, you will please certain political interests and individuals and they might not object to you keeping your job.

If you turn a blind eye to the law, you will violate the law which might disqualify you from continuing in the job.  

The game is being played in the Missouri Senate where, on one wall, is carved the quotation attributed to Irish politician Daniel O’Connell (1776-1847) and to British politician William E. Gladstone (1809-1898): "Nothing is politically right that is morally wrong."  

Another Gladstone quote, which is not carved on any walls in Capitol, is "It is the duty of government to make it difficult for people to do wrong, easy to do right."  

What will you do when rhetoric and reality collide?

Background:  Several years ago the Missouri legislature decided farmland should not be evaluated for tax purposes for its market value but should, instead, be valued for its productivity.  Farm groups liked that approach because it protected farmers who found suburbs have grown out to the edges of their property, driving up the market value of their land and causing taxes to unrealistically exceed the value of the crops or livestock raised on that land.  Seems pretty fair, doesn’t it?  The Tax Commission says productivity value is about 20% of market value. 

Every couple of years, property is reassessed in Missouri.  Residential, commercial, agricultural.  The state tax commission determines the value of eight categories of farmland.  Some land is so good that you could plant an eight penny nail and night and harvest a crowbar the next morning.  Some land raises 150 pounds of rocks per acre.   The tax commission has to decide the productive value of those two kinds of land and everything in between. 

Land values go up and down.  One year, the Missouri legislature sets up programs to subsidize development of an industry that will give some farmers lucrative new markets for their crops, particularly corn.  Farm groups liked that idea.  It would create new markets and give farmers higher prices for their corn. 

You are one of the three members of the state tax commission.  You must, by law, pay attention to studied done by the University of Missouri Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute.  FAPRI comes to you and says the productivity value on 35% of Missouri farmland has gone up.  Productivity value on 65% has gone down.  Those figures are rounded off. A few decimal points of percent are the all-rock land that stays the same.

The Tax Commission proposal is to approve findings that the productivity value of about one-third of the farmland is up 29%.  The productivity value of about TWO-thirds of the farmland is DOWN 25%. 

You know that the state senate is controlled by a political party that has made the phrase "no tax increases" a very popular political mantra.  You know that the state’s most politically-influential farm organization does not want any tax increases on farm land.  You know that your own job is at stake because you have been appointed by a Governor who also has vowed not to seek any increases in taxes–and your appointment is subject to confirmation by the Senate.  

If you vote to follow the law, which requires a reevaluation of farmland (and which means a tax CUT for owners of two-thirds of the farmland, you will be voting for a tax INCREASE for owners of one-third of the land), you are placing your $105,000 job in jeopardy because you’ll anger the farm organization and you’ll anger the "no tax increase" majority in the chamber than will decide whether to confirm your appointment..  And the majority listens closely to the farm organization.

Never mind that by voting to sustain the new values for the eight categories of farmland you are also voting for a tax cut.  By voting "yes," you are voting to increase taxes on some people and increased taxes of any kind on any body is about as popular in the state Capitol as a heart attack—regardless of the law?  

So do you vote "yes" because you feel you have to follow the law and because your vote means a tax cut for the owners of the majority of Missouri farmland.  Or do you vote yes, deny a tax cut to the owners of the majority of Missouri farmland but protect the owners of the better quality land from paying taxes based on the improved value of their property—and make it highly likely you’ll keep your $105,000 job?

The legislature has the power to reject the commission’s findings. It must take or reject everything. It cannot cherry-pick. The farm organization says it should.  Resolutions have been introduced to throw out the commission’s tax cut for owners of 65 percent of Missouri farmland (the figures, by the way, come from the tax commission) and increases for owners of 35 percent. So far we haven’t heard anyone speak on behalf of the 65-percenters. Before you read any more, answer this question: 

How would you have voted on the FAPRI recommendations? 

Now you can read again.  

This is no game for Bill Ransdall, who was appointed to the Tax Commission last November 3.  Ransdall is a former Presiding Commissioner of Pulaski County and before that, served eight years in the Missouri House of Representatives. His resume includes experience in small business and farming.  

His nomination came up for senate confirmation today.  Senator Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau is blocking Ransdall’s confirmation.  He says he’s just trying to hold Governor Nixon to his promise of "no tax increases,"  and Ransdall, who could have voted "no" voted "yes" to a plan increasing taxes owners of the state’s best farmland.  Ransdall’s Senate sponsor has withdrawn his motion for confirmation of  Ransdall’s nomination.  Senate leader Charlie Shields says Ransdall’s job is not entirely down the drain, but it’s in the curved part of the pipe under the sink.  

Our high school political science textbooks didn’t tell us about this part of things, did they?

And maybe Gladstone didn’t quite have it right when he said, "It is the duty of government to make it difficult for people to do wrong, easy to do right."  

If you were Bill Ransdall, how would you have voted? 

If you were Senator Crowell, what would you do?  

If you were a 65-percenter how would you feel about your organization landing on the side of the 35 percenters?  

If you were a 35-percenter, how magnanimous would you be?  

If you were a researcher with FAPRI, how would you feel after doing this research?

If you were a residential or commercial property owner whose evaluation in the marketplace is about five times the productivity valuation standard, what would you think?

And finally:   What’s the solution to all of this?   

Bob Priddy, News Director

The Missourinet

Written by learfield

January 21, 2010 at 8:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. onemotleyfool

    January 22, 2010 at 4:00 pm

  2. I appreciate the insight here. I think it is important to note that this is a tax increase of 11.5% statewide if you consider the increase, decrease and number of acres involved in each category.When is a bad time to raise taxes? When the legislature and governor both commit to not doing so in the first week of the legislative session.The Tax Commission and FAPRI have all done their jobs here. Now is the time for the people to weigh in…


    January 22, 2010 at 5:08 pm

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