Mel Hancock, retired congressman and creator of 'Hancock Amendment,' dies | St. Louis Public Radio

Mel Hancock, retired congressman and creator of 'Hancock Amendment,' dies

Nov 7, 2011

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 7, 2011 - Former U.S. Rep. Mel Hancock, R-Springfield, died early Sunday at age 82, according to various press reports from his hometown.

Mr. Hancock was the creator of Missouri's "Hancock Amendment,'' passed in 1980, which restricts how much annual income Missouri state government can collect.

Mr. Hancock was a staunch believer in restricting how much government can collect and spend. He also sought to limit taxes.

Mr. Hancock was running a securities system business in Springfield, Mo., when -- inspired by the California tax restriction known as "Proposition 13" -- he founded a nonprofit in the late 1970 called the Taxpayer Survival Association. Its mission was to promote limitations on taxes and spending.

In 1980, with the help of the Missouri Farm Bureau, Mr. Hancock succeeded in an initiative-petition drive to get his proposed Hancock Amendment on the ballot. Voters statewide approved the amendment amid a conservative political wave nationally -- similar to the one in 2010 -- that put Republican Ronald Reagan in the White House and gave the GOP control of the U.S. Senate.

As the Beacon explained earlier this year in a retrospective of the Hancock Amendment:

"The amendment includes a mathematical formula that limits annual Missouri tax revenue to no more than 5.6395 percent of the total personal income of its residents. If the state exceeds the limit, it must refund the money, as it did several times in the last half of the 1990s -- totaling nearly $1 billion -- when the economy was going strong."

The amendment also requires voter approval of increases in most taxes, licenses or fees.

Fired up by his victory, Mr. Hancock tried and failed to win election to the U.S. Senate in 1982. But in 1988, he won election to the U.S. House, where he served until 1997, when he retired. He was succeeded by fellow Republican Roy Blunt, now in the U.S. Senate.

In 1994, Mr. Hancock sought to impose further restrictions on state income and spending with a broader measure dubbed "Hancock II." He was upset over then-Gov. Mel Carnahan's success in persuading the General Assembly to approve an income tax hike that complied with the restrictions of the Hancock Amendment.

But unlike the original, Hancock II ran into stiff opposition from teachers groups and unions, among others, and was defeated statewide that fall.

A memorable scene in Missouri politics saw Mr. Hancock getting chased by critics in downtown St. Louis shortly before the 1994 election, when he showed up at the same time as an anti-Hancock II rally.

Mr. Hancock continued to press for limits on taxes and spending during his final years in Congress. After his retirement, his endorsement became sought after by many Republicans.

Said Blunt in a statement Monday:

"I considered Mel Hancock a close friend and a valued advisor for over 30 years. In everything he did, Mel was dedicated to creating better and less government. I join all Missourians in sending our thoughts and prayers to Mel's family and friends."

David Cole, chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, said in a statement: "We are deeply saddened by the passing of former Congressman Mel Hancock. Throughout his life, Mel was a tireless advocate for lower taxes and smaller government. ... Mel's efforts as a private citizen put Missouri at the forefront of the populist revolt against excessive government spending. There is a quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson: 'One man with courage is a majority.' Mel's life is a testament to the truth of this saying and proof that ordinary citizens can have a significant and lasting impact on their state and their nation."