I’ve been studying the Hancock Amendment to Missouri’s Constitution for some time, and have concluded that the people of this fine state were sold a bill of goods when this Amendment was passed on November 4, 1980. Truth is, I don’t remember how I voted on this. I’m afraid that I may have voted for it, because it was touted by proponents as being a way to reduce waste by government.
We all want that, right? Well, yes and no. What we don’t want is to end up in fiscal dire straits because we failed to put money away for hard times, or to reduce goods and services to the extent that college tuition becomes a burden on citizens, infrastructure is allowed to crumble, or people lose their jobs because not enough money is there to pay their salaries. And yet, that is what is happening in the great state of Missouri, thanks to a Springfield businessman, Mel Hancock, who started a referendum petition for a state constitional amendment to limit taxes in 1980.
The Hancock Amendment was loosely based on other initiatives that were popular in the late 1970s and in 1980: California’s Proposition 13, Michigan’s Headlee Amendment (1978), and others. (Hancock later served as Missouri’s 7th District Congressman from 1989-1997, and his is still alive and kicking in Springfield.)
In 1999, we got a rebate check from Missouri, after the Amendment had reversed the taxes and returned, as required, the excess funds to citizens. I’ve been trying to remember the amount of this check. I don’t think it was substantial. It was probably embarrassingly small. Since then, not a dime. But I think the Hancock Amendment has had its effect on our government, even if I didn’t get any money back. Missouri has had budget shortfalls since 2001, and these have affected all state-funded agencies negatively. Higher education, for example, has taken a huge hit. Tuition in all state-operated colleges and universities has increased substantially, nearly doubling in a decade. Most of this was due to a change in the way higher education was funded a mostly Republican legislature, but some was a result of bad decisions (my word) by former Governor Bob Holden, a Democrat. Holden began withholding funds from Missouri colleges and universities in 2001, when the economy was going sour and tax rolls were insufficient to fund state government.
Of course, if Missouri had been allowed to stash a surplus in funds against the day the economy went South, then we would not have had this problem. I say it is high time the Hancock Amendment was repealed. I’m working on research right now to show how much Missouri would have been able to save in surplus funds and what the impact would have been on those of us who received a meager check back in 1999. I will publish those results here, when I have done the research.