© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

New political group in favor of Nixon's tax-cut veto emerges to fight override effort

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: A new political group with secret funding – Missourians for Common Sense – is launching a campaign today in support of Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a tax-cut package, HB 253, in the hope of swaying public and political opinion against a legislative override.

Beginning today, residents in 15 legislative districts – including two in the St. Louis area – will receive mailers and robo-calls highlighting HB 253's elimination of the state’s longstanding exemption for prescription drugs. That would amount to a $200 million a year tax increase.

Missourians for Common Sense is particularly targeting elderly voters, with the mailers featuring pictures of elderly women – along with those of the targeted legislators.

The 15 targeted districts are all represented by Republicans. Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka and a backer of the tax-cut bill, has emphasized that he needs the support of all 109 Republicans in the House to override the governor.

The effort by Missourians for Common Sense is the first public paid campaign in support of Nixon's veto. The new campaign comes as HB 253’s backers -- including the Missouri Chamber of Commerce -- are spending more than $2 million to persuade the public and legislators to support an override when the General Assembly meets next month.

The pro-override campaign – wholly financed by wealthy businessman Rex Sinquefield -- includes a statewide TV ad campaign.

However, Missourians for Common Sense is declining, at least for now, to identify the source of its money. The donors are “concerned citizens who oppose this new tax increase on prescription drugs,’’ said spokeswoman Christy Setzer.

Setzer said the donors did not need to be identified because Missourians for Common Sense is advocating for an issue, not for a candidate or a ballot measure. As a result, it doesn’t need to file any disclosure reports with the Missouri Ethics Commission, she said.

A spokeswoman for the commission concurred Tuesday.

Aims at suburban GOP lawmakers and elderly

The 15 targeted Republican members of the Missouri House are primarily from  suburban, politically swing, districts near four of the state’s major cities: St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield and Columbia.

The two targeted districts in the St. Louis area are represented by state Reps. Robert Cornejo of St. Peters and John McCaherty of High Ridge.

A spokeswoman for Missourians for Common Sense said 12 of the 15 targeted GOP legislators, including Cornejo and McCaherty, “are believed to hold key votes or represent House districts with a particularly dense population of senior citizens.”

Cornejo and McCaherty are among the targeted legislators who voted for the bill, while some of the 12 skipped the final 103-51 vote.

The first mailing in those 12 districts features a picture of an elderly woman and, in big letters, the warning:  “You will soon pay higher taxes for prescription drugs.”

On the back, the mailing says the higher taxes can be stopped only if the targeted legislator – whose name and picture are displayed – votes “No.”

Tax-cut backers say the provision eliminating the sales-tax exemption for prescription drugs was included by mistake and will be fixed during the next legislative session.

Nixon, who opposes the bill for various reasons, has publicly warned the public against trusting the General Assembly to make the fix.

The governor has been traveling the state highlighting his many objections to HB253, which he says is too costly and will force cuts in state aid to education.  Jones and his allies say the tax cut will encourage economic growth.

Mailings praise GOP tax-cut opponents

The remaining three targeted legislators are a trio of Republicans who voted against the tax-cut bill to begin with – but whose votes will be crucial to any override. Those three are state Reps. Elaine Gannon of Jefferson City,  Kent Hampton of Malden and  Dennis Fowler of Dexter.

In the trio’s districts, elderly residents will receive mailings lauding the legislators’ opposition by “working to improve our schools and voting against putting a news sales tax on prescription drugs.”

Constituents will be encouraged to show their support and to press the three legislators to stand their ground and not switch their stances.

In both cases, the mailers’ aims are the same. “Members of the Missouri House should be on notice: if they vote this September to implement a massive new tax on prescription drugs, they will see mail pieces like this for a long time and senior citizens in their communities will not forget,” said Setzer, spokeswoman for Missourians for Common Sense.

“Over the coming weeks, legislators should anticipate hearing from seniors in their communities, and the message will be clear: nobody can afford this new, massive tax on prescription drugs.”

Democrats backing tax cut ignored

The tax cut’s backers need 109 votes to override Nixon’s veto. The bill passed 103-51, with three Democrats joining 100 Republicans in support of the bill.

For now, the three Democrats who backed the bill – including state state Rep. Jeff Roorda of Barnhart -- aren’t being targeted.

Roorda says he has yet to make up his mind about whether to support Nixon's veto or back an override.

Here’s the list of the 12 targeted Republicans who either backed the tax cut bill or missed the vote:

  • Rep. Robert Cornejo, R – St. Peters
  • Rep. Myron Neth, R -- Liberty
  • Rep. Don Phillips, R- Kimberling City
  • Rep. Caleb Rowden, R - Columbia
  • Rep. Sheila Solon, R- Blue Springs
  • Rep. Noel Torpey, R- Independence
  • Rep. Sue Entlicher, R-- Bolivar
  • Rep. David Wood, R- Versailles
  • Rep. Craig Redmon, R -- Canton
  • Rep. Lynn Morris, R -- Nixa
  • Rep. Caleb Jones, R -- Columbia
  • Rep. John McCaherty, R – High Ridge
Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.