Missouri’s Third Rail: Why The Hancock Amendment Should Be Repealed

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By Brenda J. Kilby
May, 2009

How the Hancock Amendment Became Law
The 1970s was a period of massive inflation in the United States, when the price of groceries, durable goods and gasoline skyrocketed. Wages went up too, but not as fast as property values and the tax bill. Property values in Missouri and other states that were reassessed every two years, increased tenfold in eight years. By 1978, when California voters passed Proposition 13, annual inflation was around 13 percent (Lynch, 2009). The push for Proposition 13 received a lot of press coverage, and sparked interest nationwide, and the debate provided imagery most people could relate to easily: “the fast-rising property tax assessments of [1978}when levies on ordinary houses in nondescript neighborhoods often rose by several thousand dollars every two years or less. [were] . . . literally taxing many people on fixed incomes out of their homes (Elias, 2009). Proposition 13 “fever” soon raced across the nation with wildfire’s force, and along the way, ignited the interest of Mel Hancock, a Springfield, Mo. businessman and Republican Party promoter. Hancock, a one-time insurance salesman who later ran a security equipment firm, was no doubt attracted to the fame Howard Jarvis had achieved in California by collecting signatures and putting Proposition 13 on the ballot. Jarvis, a septuagenarian from Orange County, was catapulted into instant, national recognition as the leader of a successful “populist” campaign that reduced property taxes 57 percent (Smith, 1999). The populist label attracted Hancock, who in 1978 had aspirations of succeeding his mentor and friend, long-time member of Congress Gene Taylor (R-Mo.) Just as Jarvis did, Hancock designed an amendment to the Missouri Constitution that would reduce property taxes and state revenues. He and his committee collected signatures, and managed to get it on the ballot in November, 1980. Similar measures, near copies or merely bills that were inspired by California’s Proposition 13, were also put on the ballot that year and for several elections to come. Some of the measures failed, but the Hancock Amendment passed. Hancock’s aspirations for public office would have to wait. It took ten years for the security system salesman from the Show-Me State to win an election and follow his buddy Gene Taylor to the U.S. Congress; Nevertheless, Hancock managed to accomplish something with his tax bill that even Jarvis didn’t do: his name and the tax and expenditure limiting law (TEL) he championed became synonymous – known to one and all as the Hancock Amendment.
The Hancock Amendment has three provisions:
1) the state revenue limit and tax refund provision;
2) the state mandate provision; and
3) the local government tax limit and voter-approval provision.
Hancock (the amendment) relies on a complicated formula that has been interpreted more narrowly by the courts than the framers would have liked; for example, some revenues are now excluded from the caps, including certain taxes enacted after Hancock became law, and proceeds from the Missouri Lottery (which was created afterward) (Moody, 1994).

How to Solve the Problem
In order to save Missouri from bankruptcy, the Hancock Amendment must be repealed, but in order to do this the public must be made aware of the negative effects of this measure. Voters must be made to realize that they did this and they must undo it. The power was in the people when Hancock was enacted – now it is time to take the power back and discard a law that costs them today, will cost them more tomorrow, and threatens the health, welfare and education of all Missourians. It is also important that voters understand the need for an emergency, or rainy day fund that is put aside to be only used for emergency shortfalls. The economy goes up and down, and with those fluctuations so go the state revenues. One of the changes made to Hancock in 1996 was to take away the right of the legislature and the governor to fund the state with emergency funding (Hembree, 2004). This provision should also be repealed, in order to give more flexibility to elected officials to act in an emergency to fund shortfalls in health, education and welfare. A rainy day fund, much like a savings account, must be put in reserve, one that can be accessed during any emergencies and shortfalls for education, health and welfare of citizens. Currently, Missouri keeps less than $1 billion in reserve; if tapped into for emergencies, it has to be repaid before May 16, with interest (Dunn, 2009). The state should keep a larger amount in reserve, especially with the current recession slowing tax receipts. To pay for this fund, a progressive tax is needed. But will Missouri vote for such a tax?
In order to repeal the Amendment, the public must be made aware of the damage the Hancock Amendment has caused the state, and the continued damage that may be done by additional restrictions the legislature has attempted to enact. Unfortunately, the general public is not aware of the damage done. A public relations effort is needed to reach the public, encourage legislators and mount a petition drive in order to put the question before the people.
Hancock’s Cost to Missouri
Although it has been eroded by judicial interpretation to not include some revenues, Hancock has a profound effect on Missouri’s budget. At least one analyst concluded that losses to the state revenue since 1980 has been approximately $800 million a year, which adds up to $23.2 billion in losses by 2009 (Fajen, Revised July 2004). The result of the lost revenue is a deficit in the state budget – insufficient revenues mean cuts must be made in spending. Most of these cuts have been in health care to the poor (other than Medicaid, which is a federal entitlement), aid to the elderly, programs for schools (other than federal entitlements) and most of all, to higher education. The costs of these budget shortfalls have been placed on local governments and private citizens, who have often had to do without services they needed because they either weren’t available or the cost was too high.
Hancock requires the ratio between total state revenues (TSR) and the personal income of Missourians to not go over 5.6 percent, tying the limit in state revenue to the percentage growth in Missiourian’s personal income. A provision adopted in 1996 goes further, and prohibits the General Assembly from increasing taxes or fees in any fiscal year that would exceed one percent of the TSR; if this amount is exceeded, a prorata refund of the excess is made to Missouri tax payers (Hembree, 2004). The state mandate provision prohibits the state from reducing its proportion of funding or local activities from the level in effect on November 4, 1980, or from requiring local governments to provide new or additional activities or services without the state agreeing to pay the costs.
The tax limit on localities affects the property tax, but also affects any other tax, license or fee that a government can impose. “The general rule is that voter approval is required before any political subdivision” can impose a new tax not in effect when Hancock was adopted, or increase a levy beyond what it was when adopted(Hembree, 2004) In this provision is the rollback language, which requires property taxes to be adjusted to the Consumer Price Index, rolling the tax rate back to yield the same amount as would have been received from the levy on the prior assessed value(Hembree, 2004).
The costs to Missouri have been drastic, both in lost services and in lost revenues. To reduce state revenues affected by Hancock’s growth cap, legislators cuts taxes in the 1990s as the economy grew. The state sales tax on food was reduced by about three-fourths. Corporations were given tax credits and other tax breaks to stimulate job growth. The tax deduction for individuals and families was increased. All told, approximately $750 million in long-term revenue sources were eliminated by the state legislature. The capital-gains taxes paid on record-high investment income in the 1990s came to be seen as a permanent source of income and filled part of the gap left by eliminating the tax on food as well as other tax reductions (Fajen, Revised July 2004)
From 1995-1998, close to one billion was refunded to taxpayers, which was expensive in itself to carry out. To prevent this expense in the future, revenues were curtailed based on the projected growth rates of the 1990s. This was a mistake, as it set the state up for massive shortfalls in the next decade. State and national economies slowed in 2000 and the events of Sept. 11, 2001, exacerbated that trend. Thousands of Missouri jobs were lost—over 70,000 during 2001 and 2002, according to the Department of Economic Development. By 2002, capital gains were replaced by capital losses and people were taking deductions for these losses on their federal and state income taxes. The capital gains once counted on for state revenue disappeared, and the millions in state tax cuts further cut revenues. State revenues flattened and remained flat from 1999 to 2003. (Fajen, Revised July 2004)
The budget shortfalls were unprecedented and frightening. State workers received no raises for three years, higher education cuts forced colleges and universities to raise tuition; cuts to K-12 education were less dire, mostly because of federal mandates to fund elementary and secondary education or lose federal dollars. Funding for Medicaid, an entitlement, was also mandated for federal dollars, and funding for state prisons and mental health services were also necessary, as many of these services were tied up in government contracts that would be expensive to break. That left Higher education to suffer the brunt of the cuts, along with state programs not dependent on federal funding and anything discretionary. Even after making drastic cuts, Missouri faces an annual structural budget deficit of $650 million. Most, if not all, of this deficit can be traced to a decade of ill-advised state and federal tax cuts that reduced the state’s annual general revenue by $1 billion. Net general revenue as a percentage of total personal income reached a 20-year low in FY 2004, falling from a peak of 4.5 percent in 1996 to only 3.5 percent in 2004 (Fajen, Revised July 2004).
The Hancock Myth and the Third Rail
Republicans received a great deal of mileage from the tax and expenditure limitation bills passed during the tax revolt of the late 20th century. Mel Hancock, as Missouri’s newly-elected 7th District Congressman, arrive in Washington in 1989 on the coattails of his predecessor, Gene Taylor, but the TEL that bore his name back home was being eroded by court cases and by legislation. Tax limitation measures were losing their opportune “windows.” From 1978 to 1990, a total of 58 TELs were voted on in various states, and 40 percent passed(Alm & Skidmore, 1999). And while the public’s taste for TEL’s was savory early on, as time went by voters ardor cooled; from 1984 to 1990, 18 measures on state ballots failed, and only five passed. Researchers Alm and Skidmore (1999) found that the more affluent a state in personal income, the more likely the passage of the TEL, but once a state had passed one measure, it was not likely to pass subsequent TEL measures (Alm & Skidmore, 1999)
The public was ready and willing to accept changes in tax policy in 1978 and for a few years afterward; this trend spread easily across the nation during the presidential campaign season electing Ronald Reagan in 1980, and became part of the more general public consciousness as a result. But by the mid 1980s, reeling from one of the 20th century’s worst economic recessions since World War II, Americans were feeling less willing to make sweeping changes to tax policy. Inflation was held in check by the Federal Reserve, the economy was improving, and people weren’t feeling the pinch. One issue that may have played a part in the defeat of a 1984 proposal to strengthen the Hancock Amendment was that it was proposed by the Missouri Legislature and was not a citizen’s referendum. Referendums are more complex to put into motion, and require grassroots supporters to initiate and sign petitions. Legislative proposals do not enjoy this grassroots process, and are less realized by the public. On the contrary, there are more public displays of sentiment against such measures (Moody, 1994). An editorial in the Wall Street Journal prior to a 1994 attempt to strengthen Hancock, called “Hanocock II,” criticized Democratic Party tactics to manipulate the ballot wording, and Democratic Governor Mel Carnahan’s comments before the judiciary threatening salary cuts. People were obviously feeling victimized by the proposed changes to Hancock in 1994, and not feeling so much in need of tax reform. The metaphors used by opponents were winning, especially when children’s welfare was put into the mix:
The propaganda war on Hancock II extends all the way to the classroom. The Pleasant Hill School Board near Kansas City voted to shut down the schools on December 9 until a plan is in place to deal with “draconian” budget cuts. Many parents are furious, especially since voters approved a local school bond measure only last summer. “They’re telling kids they could be bused 10 miles away, and there’ll be no sports,” Connie Blasor told us. “They’ve hung posters saying `Hancock II hurts kids,'” says Teresa Schaefer. (Tax empire strikes back.1994; Smith, 1999)
Every attempt by legislators to increase the funds affected by the Hancock Amendment has failed. Plainly the Hancock Amendment has become less attractive to voters, but the issue still has value in Jefferson City as a debate topic, and the Hancock Amendment is a hotly contested issue between legislators and policy makers in the state. Republicans, who have had the majority in both the Missouri house and senate for more than 20 years, have ensconced the Hancock Amendment in their platform. Hancock is sacred, and dissent is absent. It has become a political third rail, meaning that those who would dare to disagree with it would surely suffer a swift political death. Democrats have not addressed the Amendment in their platform. However, advocates of state education funding (many of whom are Democrats) have lobbied heavily against Hancock and the attempts by legislators to add provisions strengthening the measure in the last 10 years. The balance of the legislature is undergoing change, with the pendulum swinging back to the middle from the far right. While Democrats are still the minority, outnumbered two to one by Republicans in both the Senate and House, the tone is less strident in 2009. A bipartisan bill, The Fair Tax, passed the Missouri house April 16 that would repeal the state income tax for both individuals and corporations and repeal the estate tax, placing a larger sales tax on goods and services. Opponents of the tax say it is a regressive tax that would improperly tax the poor, but those touting it say provisions for rebates would exclude those below the poverty line from paying the tax (Naudi, 2009). If passed by voters in 2010, the tax revenues would not be subject to Hancock rollbacks and refunds, and would be allowed to grow with the economy. Republicans are solidly behind this tax, and so are some Democrats (Livengood, 2009). Could it be that the shortfalls in funding that plagued the last 10 years have created a need to bypass Hancock? If the Fair Tax issue passes, the only thing left that Hancock affects negatively will be property taxes and funding tied to property taxes. Unfortunately, that means K-12 education, some county and city fire, police and safety funds, and road improvement funds will be on the chopping block and in full view. If public services and public education is to survive, Hancock must be repealed.
Applying Theory: Why Hancock Has not Been Repealed

The dynamics of the media and how it has portrayed the Hancock Amendment over time is important to understanding how public opinion of Hancock has evolved, as well as how it might be changed. A search of the literature turns up very little criticism of Hancock since its passage; the only published pieces are written by policy analysts, working for think tanks opposing new legislation (Blouin, 2006; Fajen, Revised July 2004; Hembree, 2004; Moody, 1994). Of course, independent speakers do come out and speak against the Amendment, usually as a supporting statement for a local cause. But a debate on this issue in the public eye on a statewide basis has yet to happen. Baumgartner and Jones (1993) stated that “media coverage of complex events stress the role of symbol and metaphor,” and that often various sides of an issue will use metaphors that compete for attention (Baumgartner & Jones, 1993). The metaphor that helped Hancock pass muster with voters was that of big government playing pinochle with the little man’s bucks. It is also possible, as Alm and Skidmore stated (Alm & Skidmore, 1999) that for voters to change a policy away from the “median,” a change in the political environment must occur. In 1978, as has already been shown, the public was prime to accept changes in taxation, and in a sense the tax revolt logrolled across the nation. But as (Gramlich, Rubinfeld, & Swift, 1981)other researchers revealed in studies of voters and non voters for Michigan’s Headlee Amendment, which was very similar to Missouri’s Hancock measure, voters were not that well informed. The passage of the measure, then, may have been due more to getting those voters who were likely to vote for it to the polls, rather than encouraging the masses to appear at the ballot table.
If Lakoff (Lakoff, 2008)is correct in stating that conservatives are much better than progressives in understanding and controlling political metaphors (Pinker & Lakoff, 2007), then Hancock could serve as an excellent example to prove his point. Hancock is used by the Republican base as a shining example of how the people won, even as legislation chipped away at it until it has become but an empty shell. In this way, Hancock has become a constituent policy as well as a regulatory policy, which neatly fits Lowi’s four-square typology model (Lowi, 1972). Constituents perhaps don’t think through the concept of Hancock; maybe they just appreciate the fact that it exists, that it was brought to law by people like them, and that in that way it continues to score one important victory for the underdog. Blinder and Krueger (2004) investigated the state of economic knowledge among the general public, and how those opinions were formed, and found that most people formed their opinions on ideology, not on self interest. From this study it seems far more likely that voters are more influenced by what their opinion leaders and favorite politicians think about an issue than the effect a policy will have on their own lives.
A useful metaphor for overturning Hancock has not emerged. Could the lack of a metaphor be part of the problem? The issue is certainly complex enough to warrant one. Baumgartner and Jones also state that variant views on media coverage exist, with one camp stating that the media are “neutral actors,” and others claiming that “news is socially constructed” with the news budget planned around what is practical to cover. In this view, those with the largest influence over the media writers and producers are the ones who shape the news feed (Baumgartner & Jones, 1993). The news value of Hancock appears to shore up this latter view, as the Republican-dominated legislature steadfastly refuses to put Hancock on the discussion table, treating it like a sacred cow that must be protected at all costs. The only time Hancock appears in the news is when attempts are made to increase its power and the opposition comes out in droves to protest.
The only successful lobby against Hancock, and the success is quite notable, is the Missouri National Education Association and its allies. Proponents of K-12 removed the threat of Hancock depleting school budgets by getting the Outstanding Schools Act passed in 1993, mandating a minimum property tax rate of $2.75 per $100 of assessed valuation for all school districts in the state(Hull, 2004). Higher Education, which has not won any champions or notable court cases, is out there alone to fight for sustenance. As universities and colleges across Missouri were faced with the dilemma of less state money and had to increase tuition, they were simulataneously criticized for making education too expensive, and warned by Governor Matt Blunt, a Republican (2004-2008) and the Coordinating Board of Higher Education to keep tuition down. This came at the same time colleges were being admonished for not doing their job in retaining and graduating students in sufficient numbers; the result was threats to remove more state aid and some federal monies from any higher education institution that failed to measure up to the Coordinating Board of Higher Education’s proscribed formulas of selection and retention, a formula in place since 1991 and used to suggest funding for each institution in the state(Marble & Stick, 2004). This was a no-win situation – because as students dropped out because of the higher tuition, the rates had to go even higher to retain services when the state was cutting funds. When the bad economy is also factored in, it is obvious that many people were not able to afford tuition for themselves or their children, and put college on the back burner. Meanwhile, the legislature and the CBHE were planning to tie tuition rates, by law, to the rate of inflation, as though the other causes of tuition being raised were nonexistent (Walters, 2006). For some reason it is nearly impossible to get the general public interested in saving higher education. Ehrenburg (2006) traces the trend to “privatize” higher education back to the 1980s, and Ronald Reagan, and the growing attitude among the general public that people who go to college should pay for more of the education themselves, and not expect the taxpayer to shoulder the burden (Ehrenberg, 2006). A more subtle trend of the new funding attitude toward higher education is to send students with few economic resources to colleges that are less well-funded, creating a class system among the nation’s public schools that previously only existed between state-funded schools and the Ivy League (Ehrenberg, 2006). In Missouri, this means that smaller state schools are now for the poor, while only the rich and those with very high scores on the ACT and the SAT can go to Truman State University or one of the University of Missouri’s flagship campuses (Marble & Stick, 2004). Statistics for all of Missouri’s public higher education institutions indicate that funding is at a critical juncture, as the state is appropriating $11 million less statewide in 2010 than it did in 2002, with about half of that deficit cutting funds from the twelve state community colleges, and the rest spread among the 12 four-year colleges and universities in the state. Funding for the state’s teaching hospitals have remained flat during the same eight-year period (Welcome to the missouri department of higher education website (MDHE).).
Arnold stated that “citizen’s policy preferences depend, in part, on how they believe the world works” (Arnold, 1990). As only 21 percent of people in the state of Missouri are educated beyond high school, it could be argued that they do not value higher education enough to pay for its costs unless they or their children are attending (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008). Arnold stated that before a citizen can perceive a cost or benefit of an issue, the matter at hand must have the proper “magnitude, timing, proximity and the availability of an instigator” (Arnold, 1990). A good public relations program could provide these missing factors by making ordinary citizens feel proud and empowered to fund higher education. But the proper poster boy or girl has not emerged. Or, perhaps the real problem is timing. Kingdon (1984) stated that sometimes the policy streams come together in such a way that a window is opened, and if action is made, policies can be changed. But Kingdon also warned that these windows are of short duration. Using Kingdon’s metaphor, it is likely that now, when the country is reeling from a recession and shortfalls in state coffers, that voters would be receptive to changing or repealing Hancock and allowing the state to build up a fund. Ironically, it was through a favorable policy window that Hancock came to be law, during the tax revolt of the late 70s and early 1980s. It does appear, based on the failure of Hancock proponents to increase this measure’s reach in elections since 1980, that the conservative’s grip on this issue is slipping. Would the window be open wide enough to throw Hancock out of the state constitution?
Cobb and Ross (1997) stated that agenda conflicts “can be understood on two levels – first, agenda conflicts are about whether government will or will not seriously consider a particular grievance issue that initiators bring to it; Second, agenda conflicts are about competing interpretations of political problems, but behind them lie competiting worldviews” (Rochefort, David A. and Roger W. Cobb, 1994). Understanding the issues surrounding Hancock requires one to appreciate the variant worldviews held by opponents and conservators of the heritage of the now historic measure, especially when used as a metaphor. Conservatives cling to Hancock as a talisman, while progressives see the law much like an evil guest at a wedding, ruining everything for no good reason. Part of the problem is that neither side of the debate is able to see any good in the other side. Stansel (1994) derided any attempt to alleviate the harm Hancock had done to the state coffers as meddling by “sympathetic courts,” and dubbed attempts to go around the measure legally as “evasion” by liberal lawmakers and administrators of the state budget (Stansel, 1994). Those who would repeal Hancock fail to realize the importance of one key provision – requiring all taxes to be voted on by the people, which is as essentially American as a law can get, offering real representation before taxation (Koehr). Metaphor is important, but so is word choice and word meaning. In order to own the debate, the people have to feel they are receiving a real benefit from any change that takes place, any repeal that is attempted. Rochefort and Cobb , similar to Lakoff (2008), stated that the “uses of language are crucial to political analysis of public policy making and problem definition” (Rochefort, David A. and Cobb, Roger W., 1994) Utilizing the idea that the struggle over Hancock’s metaphors is a struggle over “alternative realities,” then it will be necessary to redefine it in the public consciousness before a change can occur.
Care must be taken, however, to be certain that proponents of a repeal do not simply rely on voters to look out for themselves. A major issue here is that the people are going against their own best interests in standing by Hancock, for the services in health, education, welfare and even the viability of the roads on which they drive to work daily, are affected by this law in a negative fashion. John Gaventa stated that worker and community quiescence in a coal camp is very similar to this situation, where millionaires, like Hancock, and his mentor Gene Taylor make the rules, working “their men like a song – and the men sang it themselves” (Gaventa, 1980) Thus, we have the third face of power, where the captives have identified with their captors in pure Stockholm syndrome manner, and have rendered themselves powerless to do anything about their own lives. Many of the people affected by Hancock do not vote, probably because they consider the issues too complex for them to grasp. They leave the playing field for the political people, who then get the voters to the polls to approve their ideas while the people sit back and cheer the voters on.
Higher education proponents are well aware of the need to better control both the agenda and public opinion, if it is to survive as a publicly-funded enterprise. Ward (2005) encourages education officials to stay upbeat and positive, and to prove to the public that higher education funding is in its own self interest. In an editorial written for the journal Presidency in 2005, Ward explained that most people think of education as being about personal opportunity, and not as a necessary value for the masses to appreciate and pay for.
On one hand, college is increasingly viewed as a personal necessity, as individuals compete for jobs, and as a national imperative, as America competes in the global economy. But many focus group participants, especially current or soon-to-be parents of college students, saw fewer affordable options available for the average student. These trends do present an opportunity to address support for higher education by appealing to both a national concern (access) and a national need (economic competitiveness). (Ward, 2005)
To encourage the public to fund higher education, it will first be necessary to educate the public, as Ward explained. Alm and Skidmore (1999) found that the median voter must be reached in order to create an outcome that is favorable to a tax issue, and that the median voter model is more likely to act in a negative reaction to the current status quo in state government. This should bode well for proponents of the repeal of Hancock, especially if they are able to show how the people (i.e., the “median voter”) are being shorted by the amendment’s limits on revenues, and can prove that repeal will cure the problem and bring great benefits to the average man and woman on the street (Alm & Skidmore, 1999).

Conclusion
The failure of proponents to put the repeal of Hancock on the agenda is due partially to the fractured efforts of a few policy analysts to make progress in getting the message to the electorate; but a large part of the problem is that those who hold Hancock dear to their hearts refuse to publicly acknowledge what they already know: the measure is a dismal failure in making Missouri’s budget more efficient. Costs, as has been shown, have simply been shifted to local governments and to individuals, or services have been removed altogether. As a result, in 2009 the state has a vastly weakened higher education system than it did in 1980 – a system that fails to offer quality education to all for a fair price, and costs much more than it should for a four-year degree. Repealing Hancock but keeping the provision requiring tax increases to be voted on by the people, is a sound plan that would meet the visceral needs of the electorate while curing the massive budget deficits that now plague the state’s coffers. The measure proposed should include a provision for setting up a reserve fund that matches the annual budget, dollar for dollar, as a hedge against future famines. The repeal should be proposed by a referendum petition, and not proposed by legislators, as it has been shown that referendum petitions are more likely to result in a positive vote than measures put on the ballot by lawmakers. The time to get started is now, because the change in state and federal government, as well as the serious budget crisis the state is now faced with in FY 2010, have opened wide the windows of change. People are ripe for a change, and they are changing differently in 2009 than they did when Mel Hancock passed petitions in 1980. April 15, 2009, people across the nation got together with “tea parties” to protest taxes and what they perceived as waste in Washington. Yes, it is true that this “protest” was spurred by conservatives, the very same people (or their children) who brought the Hancock Amendment to Missouri and the other TELs across the nation 30 years ago. But what is different is how they are doing it, using the Internet and modern technology to organize groups.
For a number of years, techno-geeks have been organizing “flash crowds” — groups of people, coordinated by text or cellphone, who converge on a particular location and then do something silly, like the pillow fights that popped up in 50 cities earlier this month. This is part of a general phenomenon dubbed “Smart Mobs” by Howard Rheingold, author of a book by the same title, in which modern communications and social-networking technologies allow quick coordination among large numbers of people who don’t know each other. (Reynolds, 2009)
The same tactics were used to bring Barack Obama into the White House in 2008. Probably the most enticing thing about these “smart mobs,” is its cachet as a true people’s movement. The groups are not truly organized by political people, but they are bringing themselves together. Such a method could very well be the catalyst for propelling the repeal of Hancock into the mainstream thoughts of the “median voter,” mobilizing the vote in such a way it has never been mobilized before. And, while the tea parties were playing into the hands of the GOP, who were protesting Obama’s stimulus package, there is no assurance that these “smart mobs” will toe any party line. When the Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele asked to speak to the assembly in Chicago, he was rebuffed. “This is an opportunity for Americans to speak, and elected officials to listen, not the other way around. (Reynolds, 2009).”

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  • Smith, D. A. (1999). Howard jarvis, populist entrepreneur: Reevaluating the causes of proposition 13. Social Science History, 23(2), 173.
  • Stansel, D. (1994). Missouri’s hancock II amendment: The case for real reform No. 2009)Cato Institute, The.
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This paper was presented to the University of Arkansas in May, 2009, as part of the author’s work toward a Ph.D. in public policy.

5 thoughts on “Missouri’s Third Rail: Why The Hancock Amendment Should Be Repealed

  1. Why not use something based on The Fair Tax on a local level? This would get rid of property taxes and bring in more money and jobs. If it can work in federal and state it should work here too.

  2. I think that would work, but it would require a constitutional change, also. Care must be taken not to confuse the issue of property taxes and income taxes, as well as sales taxes. Much of the tax code in Missouri is written, it seems, to include where the money comes from and not leave much room for change. For example, public county libraries are funded by property taxes. That is the only funding allowed without a vote of the people to add any additional tax, and I’m not even sure that it would be possible to mix the taxes, to make more income. It becomes very complex, so complex that most voters can’t comprehend it.

  3. You provide a very cogent explanation of your point of view. I admire your effort. Unfortunately, when I look at all the taxes I pay I’m not convinced by your well written thesis that I should pay more.

    Two years ago my St Charles county property tax assessment was increased by 30+ percent causing those taxes to rise by hundreds of dollars. Now, two years later my latest assessment shows a 6 percent reduction. That seemed fairly reasonable and I was happy to see it. The euphoria ended when I saw that the projected dollar reduction would be a miserable 20 bucks. The tax rate had increased for almost every category. What kind of justice is there in that?

    I’m no tax expert but I’m a reasonable person (can anyone say “common sense”?). I have to make my budget balance, as do hundreds of thousands of other Missourians. History is very clear that given the opportunity there are plenty of people who would siffon off every ounce of productivity of their fellow man. Just today the headlines are full of how the Fed’s are planning to add taxes to numerous additional items in order to provide universal health care. It never, ever, ever stops. To me, the Hancock Amendment is about sanity. If any entity cannot “productively” generate revenue, then, no matter how justified the need, it can only have a predetermined amount of mine. I believe it makes perfect sense to limit each governmental entities ability to confiscate my earnings.

    Why is it so hard to see that each successive politician has desires on our hard earned dollars. The very first politician only wanted them to defend the country. The next one wanted them to educate the children. The next one wanted them to build some roads. Every successive politician comes into office with plans on how to better our civilization. And each time that plan includes dipping a little deeper into my pocketbook. It’s a disturbing pattern and I’m glad that Missourian’s have had the forethought to put limits in place as they did. (Imperfect limits are better than no limits. In addition, automatic limits are better than depending on a disengaged electorate to vote down boondoggles.)

    In my book no pain no gain. Everyone thinks they are entitled to a high standard of living. In, actuality, almost to a man, the people of the USA each have a high standard of living no matter what their circumstance. No one is entitled to anything other than to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Right now my pursuit of happiness is simply eeking out few dollars from each paycheck for my family to do a few things, and I’m a fairly affluent individual. One son is recently out of college and another is part way through. I guess I could spin it that if other people would pay more in taxes to fund higher education then I would possibly have more discretionary income. I refuse to look at it in that respect. We’ve tightened our belt and limit our spending to what we can afford. That is until another tax bill shows up and we’re scrambling to figure out how we’re going to cover it.

    The issues are way too complex to solve here, but my take is “no blank checks for politicians”.

    With this latest round of borrowing by the Feds it’s hard to see a future where my children ARE NOT paying the majority of their earnings in as taxes to pay off our staggering national debt. This is a national debt that is the result of unbridled foolishness on behalf of politicians. I only wish we had an enforceable “Hancock Amendment” on the Federal government as we do in Missouri. (No matter how imperfect it may appear.)

  4. The Hancock amendment was a brilliant creation and remains the most important factor in limiting the growth of government in Missouri. Without unlimited funding, the state cannot expand, it must choose wisely and spend on priorities rather than feed its growth. The problem with progressives, socialists and social justice theorists is that they do not connect their taxing and redistributionist utopian views with the inevitable outcome. As a state (or the federal government) taxes it productive citizens more in order to redistribute wealth they siphon off substantial resources to feed the bureaucratic engine REQUIRED to manage wealth redistribution. This siphoning is inevitably corrupting. It is not an accident that Soviet Russia or Communist China became dictatorships. It was not the failure of socialist “implementation.” It is an inherent flaw in the socialist system that makes such results inevitable. “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” There is a direct correlation between the size of the state and the lack of freedom we enjoy. As the state grows our freedom suffers. God bless Mr. Hancock, regardless his motivations.

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