Today we have a guest blog posting on Proposition A by Eapen Thampy, Policy Analyst, Americans for Forfeiture Reform. His guest blog goes to the heart of the opposition’s true resistance to Proposition A – Let Voters Decide, and why they are willing to completely lie to the voters of Missouri in their attempt to defeat it!
In defense of Proposition A: Why the argument against local control is a red herring
By Eapen Thampy
I think the notion that the people of St. Louis and Kansas City should have the option of periodically evaluating, by their vote, the necessity of an earnings tax is fundamentally a good one. But it is not my intention here to defend that notion; others have spoken with far more sophistication than I am capable of on the demerits of earnings taxes specifically. But this argument that Proposition A would undermine local control was a far more troubling one for me, since I approach this issue with the notion that we want to make laws that increase rather than decrease voter control of their governance.
I have come to the view, however, that there is a good reason for increasing the costs of obtaining an earnings tax. It’s because at the local level, voters face a rigged game to begin with. Here’s how the game works.
There is a power asymmetry that divests voters of power in local tax issues. That asymmetry is that politicians have incentives to please public sector unions who can mobilize large blocks of votes with relative ease. Moreover, getting the endorsement of law enforcement and firefighters unions is a shortcut to building intangible social and relational capital, providing politicians with powerful incentives to form local political cartels with these unions to the detriment of taxpayers.
Consider quite specifically what the earnings tax is designed to do. By its very nature, it is designed to tax people who do not live and vote in a specific municipality. This effect is only compounded by time, since higher marginal tax rates reduce the incentives to work and live in that municipality. In other words, over time, earnings taxes controlled by municipalities become less democratic, not more. Political cartels are able to solidify their position as voters flee and public sector unions control proportionally more votes.
This is why it is democracy-enhancing to force decisions on earnings taxes to the state level. From this perspective, Proposition A can be framed as a decision by the voters of this state to disallow the use of a taxing mechanism that can be easily manipulated by local political cartels.
And generally speaking, this is how it was intended. All authority for municipalities to levy taxes vests from the Missouri Constitution in the first place for precisely the reason that the framers intended to leave decisions on taxation to a statewide legislative or ballot process, and not delegate that authority solely to municipalities. From a historical perspective, the local control argument is a red herring, since the state is the ultimate arbiter of taxation.
Proposition A is a democracy-enhancing option for Missouri voters, and represents part of the challenge of reasserting voter control over Missouri governance. It is my hope that Missouri may yet meet this challenge.
Eapen and his organization are doing a great job in exposing issues. Eapen’s contact info is:
Americans for Forfeiture Reform