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Tax-cut measure languishes

April 21, 1998
By: Brent P. Johnson
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A tax-cut plan to let Missourians deduct their health insurance coverage costs from their state tax returns is languishing in the Ways and Means Committee -- despite unanimous committee approval.

The committee voted 23-0 to pass the bill on Feb. 26, but Rep. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, has not moved it to the House calendar.

"There's no slot for it. It's too late," Bray said. "It didn't rise to the top of my interests. It has a lot of competition" among other tax-cutting measures.

Rep. David Levin, R-St. Louis County, and Rep. Kelly Parker, D-Salem, sponsored identical bills. In all, 128 of 162 representatives signed on, including House Speaker Steve Gaw and Republican Floor Leader Delbert Scott.

"The bill's extremely popular on both sides of the aisle. It deserves to be debated," Levin said. "The state can afford to give tax breaks to make health care affordable."

With the legislative session nearing an end, Levin said he plans to circulate a petition to force the bill out of committee. "The leadership's had ample opportunity to move on it. This is a last resort."

With mandatory adjournment May 15, Levin conceded there was little chance for passage, even if his effort succeeded.

Rep. Tim Harlan, D-Columbia, who co-sponsored Levin's bill, said he is concerned with its price tag. "The problem is the terrific cost. You have to responsibly connect it to deal with other tax-cut issues. It doesn't replace other health insurance issues."

Legislative staff estimate the bill would cost state government $83 million in lost tax revenue.

"There's not a lot we can do," Parker said about the high costs of health care. "We can at least give a deduction dollar for dollar on income tax returns."

But, Parker said the top tax-cut priorities for the remainder of the session will be providing local property tax relief to Missourians, particularly low-income senior citizens and the low-income disabled.

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