Sinquefield Isn't Learning Lessons from His Political Failures
St. Louis Post-DispatchEditorial
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
If there is one person who should understand the irony in Cole County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Joyce's ruling on Friday that effectively tossed out a voter initiative to abolish Missouri's income tax, it's the man behind the effort, Rex Sinquefield.
Mr. Sinquefield, a retired investor who splits his time between St. Louis and Osage County, has dedicated a fair amount of his substantial fortune in recent years to pushing his mostly zany ideas on the Legislature.
With millions of dollars invested in key lawmakers, mostly Republicans, Mr. Sinquefield has bought himself a lot of floor time and a lot of failures. From passing a fair tax to using public money for private school vouchers, Mr. Sinquefield's proposals have lost over and over again. For a guy who sometimes seems to own the House and Senate leadership, he hasn't been able to make the Legislature do much.
That brings us to Judge Joyce's ruling.
In a blistering rebuke to Mr. Sinquefield, his lobbyists and state Auditor Tom Schweich, one of the recipients of Mr. Sinquefield's political largesse, Judge Joyce ruled that the fiscal note Mr. Schweich attached to a proposal to eliminate the state income tax failed to tell voters how truly disastrous things would become.
Relying on information he gleaned from Mr. Sinquefield's paid staff, Mr. Schweich had estimated that by getting rid of the income tax and replacing it with a much larger sales tax, Missouri revenue probably would decrease by as much as $1.5 billion. But revenue might increase by about $300 million, he said.
The numbers aren't credible, Judge Joyce ruled, and the biggest reason is that Mr. Schweich's estimate of the potential fiscal impact of the legislation assumes that the Legislature would replace the income tax with the highest sales tax the initiative would allow, about 7 percent on most purchases, no more than 5 percent on food.
Here's the problem, and Mr. Sinquefield has seen this firsthand: You can't make the Legislature do anything.
In other words, the only thing that voters can expect if they end the state income tax is that state revenue, already woefully low, would decrease by $7.5 billion, effectively bankrupting the state.
The Legislature would be instructed to pass a large sales tax to make up the difference. Various studies have shown that, to really matter, the sales tax would have to be much higher than what Mr. Sinquefield and his minions would allow.
But never mind that, Judge Joyce wrote. You can't tell voters that the revenue will be replaced because the Legislature may or may not comply with the initiative's instructions.
"It remains the will of the General Assembly whether or not to adopt a law," Judge Joyce wrote, pointing out that any language suggesting the Legislature 'shall" do something is "meaningless."
There is nothing meaningless about Mr. Sinquefield spending $2.5 million of his money trying to gut a primary Missouri revenue source, although there is some solace that the measure probably is dead for this year.
Unfortunately, Mr. Sinquefield can be expected to try, try again to pass this very, very bad idea. Here's the rub, and we think he realizes this: If he tells voters the truth about what his measure would do, their response would make Judge Joyce's misgivings look like a pat on the back.