In tax cut fight, outside groups to “ratchet up” focus on early childhood education

Tax cut opponents on the outside are shifting their focus beyond Nixon’s education cuts claim.

– In this year’s tax cut fight, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon is using a playbook similar to the one he used in the tax cut fight of 2013. Nixon has railed against lawmakers for supporting a “risky experiment” that he says would harm K-12 education.

But this year, Republicans are claiming a win over that line of criticism. They point to revenue trigger that would only allow the tax cut to go into effect if state revenues are $130 million higher than the three previous years. They also point to $230 million in funding for K-12 education in their Fiscal Year 2015 budget (even though it is below Nixon’s recommendation that aims to fully fund the K-12 foundation formula by 2017).

On Friday, Nixon’s administration held a series of conference calls with K-12 educators and higher education leaders where they laid out his case against this year’s $620 million tax cut. Nixon’s administration told them the governor would wait until the final day he has to veto the bill in an effort to prevent an override and pull in wary Republicans. Nixon also mentioned that he may have found a “major flaw” in the five page bill that could help him with his argument against it.

Last week, he pointed to numbers from the Missouri School Board Association showing potential cuts to K-12 education, and said, “Senate Bill 509 would drain hundreds of millions of dollars annually out of our K-12 schools — weakening our economy, undermining our stable business climate, and putting full funding of the foundation formula out of reach.”

Jay Hardenbrook, director of policy at the Missouri Budget Project, laid out a series of talking points on Monday to groups like the Missouri Alliance for Childhood Education, where he acknowledged Republican messaging on the issue may be working, and that outside groups could be successful in moving their attention beyond only the education cuts Nixon had laid out.

“Legislators are saying K-12 will be okay, so we need to ratchet up childhood, mental health, etc. on the chopping block,” he said, according to an email obtained sent to advocates by Erin Brower, vice president of the Missouri Alliance for Childhood Education. [PDF] “Need all hands on deck.”

Hardenbrook, who has previously worked with the Partnership for Children in Kansas City, said outside groups should put pressure on a handful of state Senators who will have the first take on the bill in any potential veto override fight. Those include Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Republican who hails from a swing district in Kansas City, as well as lawmakers involved in education policy, including Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, and Sen. Jay Wasson, R-Nixa.

According to the email, Jason Dalen, associate director of The Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, also laid out arguments to use against the so-called trigger. He said the trigger was “so small it wouldn’t keep up with inflation,” and said the trigger could be inflated by “one-time events such as a legal settlement in the state’s favor that would have little long-term impact on the state budget.”

On Monday, Republicans in the General Assembly shot back at the new line of criticism from outside groups, and were critical of Nixon for not presenting the same arguments to them as he did outside groups.

“What the heck is the governor doing talking to Jason Dalen about a ‘major flaw’?,” House Majority Floor Leader John Diehl said on Monday. “If he were serious and sincere he would be talking to the Third Floor and not trying to score cheap political points.”

Hardenbrook said he thought some of the Republicans who voted against last year’s tax cut during the override effort may be willing to do so again this year. All but two of them supported the bill when it was heard in the House on Wednesday. One of those is no longer in the legislature, and the other was absent. Most of them joined Diehl and House Speaker Tim Jones at a news conference on Wednesday prior to the vote in an effort seems as a show of solidarity with the members who showed wariness last year.

Rep. Nate Walker, a Kirksville Republican who was the first to announce his opposition to last year’s legislation, said on Monday, “I support SB 509 with the same passion I detested HB 253.”

Republicans, who have 108 members in the House, need the support of one Democrat in order to override Nixon’s veto. Rep. Jeff Roorda, a Democrat running for state Senate in Jefferson County, voted in favor of the bill originally. In the Senate, Republicans have just one vote to spare.

Diehl said he believes all of the Republican members are on board this year.

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