State rep wants to sunset 1/8-cent conservation sales tax. That’s a bad idea
State Rep. John Cauthorn (R-Mexico) introduced on Feb. 16 a bill in the Missouri General Assembly to sunset the 1/8-cent sales tax funding the Design for Conservation.
If this bill, titled HJR 22, becomes law, Missouri voters will decide every 10 years, beginning in 2012, whether to renew the 1/8-cent conservation sales tax approved in 1976.
This looks like a case of a legislator trying to fix something that’s not only not broke, but is working well. The 1/8-cent sales tax is a minimal bite on consumers but has done more to preserve Missouri’s lands, wildlife and waters anyone could have imagined.
In its first year, 1977, $24 million dollars from the tax went toward Design for Conservation. In recent years, the annual revenue has been in neighborhood of $98 million. Thanks to Design for Conservation, Missouri is a leader in protecting and managing our natural resources. Wildlife and natural resource agencies in other states envy Missouri’s dedicated funding source that underwrites a quality conservation department.
Of course, nobody, including this writer, agrees with everything the Conservation Department does. Since the MDC doesn’t have to come to the General Assembly for funding, legislators have little recourse to press the MDC to change policies they and their constituents don’t like.
It’s not surprising that there are regular attempts to bring the conservation department under political control. All of us may get frustrated with the MDC’s independence, but we should never forget the value of having the department somewhat insulated from the pressures of campaign finance, lobbyists and influential politicians.
Missouri voters did a wise thing when they enacted the 1/8-cent sales tax to underwrite the Design for Conservation in 1976. Because of it, we are blessed with more public land, more abundant wildlife, more education about nature for our youth, more nature-related facilities and programs for all citizens than many other states.
If there are problems with specific MDC policies, citizens can take them to the Missouri Conservation Commission. There’s no reason to jeopardize the financial structure that underwrites an excellent department and a program that will continue to benefit Missourians for generations to come.
Be sure to let your governor and local legislators know how you feel about Rep. Cauthorn’s bill.
— Emery Styron