Missouri will exempt Social Security, public pension payments from state income taxes

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Missouri Gov. Mike Parson during a press conference from the Capitol on Dec. 2, 2020. | Photo courtesy of the Missouri Governor’s Office

Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday signed the tax cut he said a week earlier was responsible for his decision to veto most of the 201 spending items he cut from the state budget.

The bill, exempting Social Security benefits and public pension payments from income tax, would reduce state general revenue by an estimated $309 million annually. It would also allow counties to hold a vote on whether people 62 or older should be exempt from increases in their annual property tax bills.

The bill passed with broad bipartisan support – only two House members voted against it – but not without some misgivings among Democrats, said Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis. 

Under current law, exemptions allowed for retirement income are phased out for single taxpayers earning more than $85,000 and married couples with incomes above $100,000.

“I was not thrilled with it,” Merideth said. “But honestly, to me, it was the best of the options presented.”

The Republican House leadership was pushing for a $1 billion cut in corporate and income taxes. The bill’s property tax language began as a cap on increases in assessments for all property owners. 

“Many of us agree that there is a real problem with seniors right now that are on fixed incomes dealing with inflation and property taxes are a big part of that,” Merideth said.

Homeowners around the state, especially in metropolitan areas, are seeing massive increases in their assessments due to the recent rise in real estate prices. And while provisions in the constitution require rates to be rolled back when overall assessment increases exceed inflation, individual property owners could still see big increases if their property assessment went up more than the general average.

Parson’s decision to cite the tax cut for retirement benefits as a reason to veto spending items is not playing well with lawmakers. Budget leaders from both chambers said this week they will consider overrides, and said fiscal policies pushed by the governor, more than the retirement exemption, are doing more to reduce state revenues.

“Maybe the governor’s concerned about what possible, further tax reductions that the legislature may be looking at, but that’s not necessarily how, in my opinion, you build this budget,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, said in an interview this week.

Missouri took in $13.2 billion in general revenue in the year that ended June 30. The state was also holding surplus funds of nearly $8 billion. Parson vetoed $555 million in spending, including $365 million in general revenue appropriations, from the $16 billion in general revenue items in the budget.

Growth in state revenue slowed, however, to 2.7% during fiscal 2023 and is expected to be just 0.7% in the current fiscal year. It is a large income tax cut passed last year, not the retirement exemptions, responsible for slowing growth, Merideth said.

“It’s one thing to blame this tax cut,” Merideth said, “but really, the real tax cut that’s gonna be costing us money is the other one.”

State Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville and sponsor of the bill, could not be reached Friday morning for comment.

Automobile sales tax

  A temporary tag that expired at Christmas found during May on a Jeep Cherokee in a Columbia parking lot. | Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent

Tucked into a bill that will ban texting while driving for all motorists is a provision requiring automobile dealers to begin collecting sales tax at the time of a purchase.

​​At a February hearing, Missouri Association of Auto Dealers lobbyist Jay Reichard estimated that up to $60 million in auto sales taxes were delinquent. The dealers are paying an extra administrative fee for the new computer system, estimated to cost $120 million, and the system is designed for dealers to collect the tax.

Every motorist on the road knows if a fellow driver has paid the sales tax on a vehicle by looking at their license plate. If it is a paper temporary tag, the tax is still due because it must be paid at the state license office at the time a person registers their ownership of the vehicle.

“We think this is a great thing for our customers,” Reichard said in a May interview. “They want to go to one place and get the job done.”

Auto dealers are the only retailers who do not collect sales tax at the time of sale, he noted.

For an article in May, The Independent found a half-dozen temporary tags in a short period in Columbia, including one that had expired on Christmas Day.

The texting provision, which currently applies only to drivers under 21, will take effect on Aug. 28. 

A driver could not be cited for a violation, however, unless the officer stops the car for another reason. That is similar to the law governing seat belt violations.

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