Circuit breaker credit up for debate

By Tom Coulter
Columbia Missourian

JEFFERSON CITY — Low-income seniors who pay rent in Missouri could soon be disqualified from receiving a property tax credit if a bill up for perfection this week is approved.

Senate Bill 208 would limit the Senior Citizens Property Tax Credit to Missouri homeowners, marking a major change to a tax credit program sometimes referred to as the “circuit breaker” that has been a contentious topic in the Missouri Legislature for the last six years.

Of the roughly 161,000 elderly Missourians who used the credit in 2017, 85,057 would no longer qualify.

By limiting the credit to only homeowners, the state would save about $48 million. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, said the savings would go back into general revenue.

During the Ways and Means Committee meeting on the bill in February, no one testified in favor of the bill, and six citizens spoke against the bill. Jay Hardenbrook, the advocacy director of Missouri AARP, said both parties have had “equally bad ideas,” beginning in 2013 when former Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon proposed ending the program for renters.

“We’re feeling like punching bags right now,” Hardenbrook said. “This is just adding another insult to injury.”

Some senators on the committee, however, see a tax program in need of reform. Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, said the tax credit exceeds the amount renters have to pay for property taxes.

“Essentially renters don’t pay property tax,” Onder said. “The full credit doesn’t make sense.”

During the meeting, Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said she found the idea of removing the program “appalling.”

“I would kill (this bill) on the floor, so you can probably withdraw it now,” Nasheed said.

In an interview after the meeting, Wallingford said budget shortfalls motivated him to propose the bill, but that he is “always open to ideas” to create funding. He pointed to previous legislation he has sponsored that would make it easier for the state to collect sales tax from online retailers.

“If we would’ve had that instituted when I first presented it, we probably wouldn’t be in this situation,” Wallingford said. “But we didn’t, and now we’re behind.”

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