JEFFERSON CITY - Slowly but surely, the Missouri Senate is moving forward with its major tax-cut bill of the session.
Senators debated part of one amendment for about 90 minutes Tuesday. The amendment, offered by Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, would strip tax breaks for day care and school expenses out of the bill and instead raise the state income tax deduction for each dependent to $1,200.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Harry Wiggins, D-Kansas City, would raise the dependency deduction to $800; give up to a $2,500 tax deduction for school expenses for students in grades 9-12; and allow a tax credit for day care up to $360 per child. The bill also contains 18 targeted sales tax exemptions for items including college textbooks and assistive devices for the disabled.
Jacob said only those parents who send their kids to private schools would benefit from the school-expenses deduction, and only working parents with young children would benefit from the day care credit. Raising the dependency deduction, on the other hand, would benefit all parents, he said.
"Every parent in the state of Missouri will be treated equally," he said. "In the long run, everyone in the state, regardless of the circumstances, is going to get a greater tax benefit with my proposal than the other two."
Sen. Doyle Childers, R-Reeds Spring, supported Jacob's amendment.
"It'd be a dangerous precedent for us to give public money to private schools," Childers said.
Jacob said he also objects to the school-expenses deduction because of the need for separation of church and state.
"I think that wall should remain high," he said after the debate. "Some people are trying to break it down completely."
Those who favor the school-expenses deduction argue parents who pay to send their children to private schools should get some relief. Wiggins said the tax deduction would not fund private schools nor interfere with their curriculum; it's simply a small tax break for parents.
The first part of Jacob's amendment, which would increase the dependency deduction to $1,200 and remove the day-care credit, passed 17-14. Senators will resume debate on the amendment this morning. Jacob said he expects the final vote on his amendment will be extremely close.
Wiggins' bill, as it stands now, would amount to $71 million a year in tax cuts. Legislators are looking to cut taxes by about $120 million this session to comply with the state constitution's revenue limit.