Last month, Governor Nixon vetoed House Bill 253, a massive tax scheme that will cost more than $800 million annually when fully implemented. That exceeds what Missouri spends to fund all of the state’s public colleges and universities each year. HB 253’s effects will be far-reaching, especially for college students and their families. Public colleges and universities are already feeling the squeeze caused by legislation, the result of the recent $45 million in budget withholds by Governor Nixon which act as a down payment on the tax bill if the veto is overridden in September.
With a budget hit surpassing $800 million annually, every public service is bound to be impacted, including state aid to public colleges and universities. Higher education is typically the first area of the budget hit when the state faces budget shortfalls. That means more pressure to hike tuition to make up the difference, which translates into a hidden tax increase on middle-class families with college students. Just look at Kansas. After making drastic changes to their tax structure, colleges and universities in the Sunflower State are making up the difference by increasing students’ tuition at several times the rate of inflation.
House Bill 253 will devastate financial aid and scholarships for higher education as well. These include the A+ Scholarship Program, a program that pays students’ tuition for community colleges if they get good grades and engage in community service; Access Missouri, a needs-based aid program providing financial assistance to low-income families; and Bright Flight, a scholarship program that offers an incentive for Missouri’s most talented students to attend college in the Show-Me State. House Bill 253 threatens all of these programs and many more, putting college out of reach for many students and making it more difficult for them to reach their full potential.
The cuts to higher education funding also will cause colleges and universities to reverse course on plans for new programs and initiatives designed to spur economic growth in their local communities and across the state. Higher education institutions often serve as the nucleus for local communities and, to a broader extent, serve as economic development incubators for the state. If HB 253 takes effect, Missouri’s economic engine will stall, leaving the Show-Me State on the sidelines, while states that invest in higher education thrive.
The bill also imposes a new tax on text books. Currently, college text books are exempt from state sales tax. However, HB 253 repeals this exemption. The typical student will have to pay $200 or more in sales taxes on books during their education. Missouri needs to focus on making college more accessible to students and families, not give millionaires a tax break at the expense of those who can least afford it.
Proponents of HB 253 have expressed an interest in overriding the Governor’s veto in September. Contact your legislator and urge them to vote NO on the override!