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No Tax Debate, Yet

September 19, 1996
By: Andy Kravetz
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Mel Carnahan's tax-credit plan for college students met with silence from the state official seeking to unseat the Democratic governor in November.

State Auditor Margaret Kelly's office said the GOP candidate for governor was out of town and had no immediate comment on Carnahan's proposal.

It's the second time this fall Kelly declined to comment on one of Carnahan's policy proposals.

On Thursday (Sept. 19), Carnahan announced he would propose a tax credit of up to $1,500 for Missouri students to cover the cost of tuition and fees of post-secondary education at a private or public higher education school in Missouri.

If approved by the General Assembly, Carnahan's "Challenge Scholarships" would begin with a $500 in 1998, $1,000 in 1997 and $1,500 in 2000.

The program would cost about $34 million the first year and once fully in place, the cost would be about $100 million, according to administration officials.

Randy Kammerdiener, operations director of Kelly's campaign, said Thursday afternoon that the state auditor hadn't had time to look over the new proposal and make comments.

"She will respond, in conjunction with her own education proposals over the next few weeks," he said.

Kelly will unveil her own $500 million tax-cut plan around the beginning of next month, he said. The plan, Kammerdiener said, would include some form of educational tax credits.

Last month, Kelly also declined comment when Carnahan announced that he would call for a repeal of the state's sales tax on food.

Kammerdiener said Kelly's silence on specific campaign issues is part of her game plan.

"Right now, people really aren't paying attention to the issues," he said. "There is plenty of time in the next six weeks for her to detail why she would be a better governor than Mel Carnahan."

Staying silent may be the best strategy for Kelly, who is trailing far behind Carnahan in campaign contributions. Carnahan, reporting $1.7 million at the close of the primary campaign, had a war chest four times greater than Kelly's.

M.U. Political Science Professor Rick Hardy and former GOP candidate for Congress, said Kelly's plan might work since governors always have the advantage in dealing with the media.

"The governor can always be proactive because he is a policy maker, however, the position of auditor is almost always reactive," he said. "But you can also come out with a plan too early and then people forget about it."