Senate votes to slash tax bills for amateur sports events, charity groups

By Alexander Mallin

JEFFERSON CITY – Four days after Gov. Jay Nixon called on the Legislature to cut back on Missouri’s numerous tax credits, the state Senate passed its first bills, and all of them expand the tax-credit system.

The chamber voted 32-0 Thursday on three bills that restore the tax-deductible status of certain charitable groups. With a 28-4 vote, the lawmakers also voted to create two new tax credits meant to attract amateur sports events to the state. The proposal now will move to the House.

Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, sponsored legislation to renew the five tax credits directed toward several non-profit agencies that help those in need. Those credits expired last August after lawmakers failed to renew them. The tax credits got paired with economic development incentives that also expired because they were never voted on.

“All of these (programs), and some more than others, saw a decline in their donations,” Dixon said. “They’re helping Missourians in a way that is much more efficient and much more productive than a state agency or program can.”

Dixon said that the Senate is taking a step in the right direction by evaluating each tax credit on its own criteria.

“I know there is already discussion about tax credit reform,” Dixon said. “These are very heated issues and they need to be vetted on the merits of their issues.”

The Senate also approved the creation of two new tax credits in bills sponsored by Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, and Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, that aim to attract amateur sporting events to Missouri.

Schmitt’s bill would give groups like the National Collegiate Athletic Association $5 back for each admission ticket sold for a sporting event in Missouri, with a $3 million annual cap for the state.

By attracting events, such as the Final Four or SEC Championship game, Schmitt said the economic value would more than make up for the costs.

“You are assuming that with each ticket sold, you have a person spending a little over $100 at an event,” Schmitt said. “When you go to one of these events, you’re buying a really expensive ticket, you’re staying in a hotel room, you’re buying dinner, drinks. All of that stuff makes this something that not only the state will come out ahead on but all of those businesses that are paying taxes.”

Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, was one of three Republicans to vote against Schmitt’s bill.

“I’m not convinced that ‘paying for itself’ is the right criteria,” Emery said. “My fundamental philosophy is that every tax credit has a constituency, and so every tax credit makes it harder for us to do real tax reform.”

Like several of his Republican colleagues, Emery has proposed eliminating the state income tax and reinforcing the state sales tax. He said he supported the benevolent tax credits because of the impact on society, but said he couldn’t say the same for the amateur sports event credit.

“I don’t know if it’s going to benefit the state or not,” Emery said. “I just think its a bad idea directionally. This is a tax credit that was passed because of where we are. I think it was bad in terms of where we’re going.”

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, who voted against the bill, said the credit is the wrong approach to the comprehensive tax-credit reform with which the governor has tasked the Legislature.

“We’re in a deficit,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “We’re going to have to figure out what we are going to cut. If we’re consistently going to have bills and tax policy that takes out money from our general revenue, that’s going to be a problem long term.”

Schmitt first proposed the idea of an amateur sports tax credit four years ago, and said Thursday that the overwhelming majority support in the passage of the benevolent tax credit along with the amateur sports bill is a sign of good things to come for the state.

“It proves that we have the ability to look at these things and make independent judgements,” Schmitt said.