JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on Wednesday promised the “boldest state tax reform in America” even as new federal and state tax cuts are just taking effect.
The Republican said he wants lower taxes both for people and businesses, but he didn’t reveal any further specifics in his second State of the State address. He said he will lay out a detailed plan “early next week.”
“It is the boldest state tax reform in America,” Greitens said in a 30-minute speech to the Republican-led Legislature. “And with your help, we will lower taxes for working families and make it easier for businesses to come to Missouri and create jobs.”
Greitens’ call for tax cuts comes as Missouri is implementing the first phase of a state income tax cut passed by Missouri lawmakers in 2014 and federal tax cuts signed into law by President Donald Trump are taking effect.
State Budget Director Dan Haug has said the federal tax change is expected to cost the state about $58 million for a full fiscal year in lost revenue, and House Budget Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick said the state income tax cut is projected to cost roughly $240 million in the fiscal year that begins in July. Missouri has a more than $27 billion budget.
Considering that lost revenue, Greitens and the legislative budget leaders are predicting modest revenue growth next year of 2.5 percent.
Greitens said tax changes will be done in a way that’s “fiscally sound, maintains our state’s triple-A credit rating, and does not burden our children with debt.” He did not unveil his budget proposal during the address, which Assistant House Minority Leader Gina Mitten likened to “a cheeseburger without the burger or the cheese — everything important is missing.”
Republican lawmakers applauded as Greitens called for tax cuts, but most Democrats sat silently.
GOP House Speaker Todd Richardson said Wednesday that the House “has a strong desire to work on tax reform.” But Rep. Justin Alferman, the Republican vice chairman of the chamber’s budget committee, said he was surprised by how aggressively Greitens seemed to be seeking tax cuts.
Republican Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard also has expressed interest but urged caution at last week’s start of the 2018 legislative session, saying he wants to avoid the budget troubles Kansas is now facing after a sweeping tax cut.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry praised Greitens’ call for tax cuts, but Democrats generally have remained skeptical.
“I’m really concerned about continuing to cut taxes,” Democratic Sen. Jill Schupp said after Greitens’ speech. “I don’t think the state can afford it.”
Greitens also renewed calls for lawmakers to enact term limits for all statewide elected officials and ban lobbyist gifts to lawmakers.
The Republican-led House earlier Wednesday gave initial approval to a bill that would ban most gifts to individual lawmakers, although it includes exceptions such as catered events to which all lawmakers and statewide officials are invited.
Greitens asked lawmakers to pledge not to accept lobbyist gifts as the bill makes its way through the Legislature. That was met with a smattering of applause from some Republican and Democratic lawmakers, but not all.
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty said the call for a self-imposed gift ban was “disingenuous” of the governor, adding that she thinks “dark money” — such as donations to a nonprofit formed to back Greitens’ agenda — is a more important issue.
In a Democratic response address, McCann Beatty slammed Greitens over ethics and transparency. She pointed to an attorney general investigation into Greitens’ staff using a texting app that deletes messages after they’re read.
“Gov. Greitens markets himself as a political outsider dedicated to cleaning up state government,” McCann Beatty said in prepared remarks. “During his first year in office, however, Gov. Greitens’ administration has been stained by ethical failings, disdain for the law and a complete lack of transparency.”
McCann Beatty touted Democratic legislation to ban the use of apps that quickly delete text messages and to require more transparency from donors to candidates and inaugural events.
After Greitens’ speech, she said she’s “disheartened” that there was no mention of what she described as growing racial tension in the state. McCann Beatty said it’s unfortunate that Greitens didn’t address the concerns of protesters in St. Louis, who took to the streets after a white former police officer was acquitted in September in the 2011 shooting death of a black suspect.