A good weekend story by the News-Leader's Roseann Moring captures one of the most incredible aspects of the debate about Rex Sinquefield's plan to replace the state's income tax with a much higher sales tax: supporters are convinced it's a great idea, even though they don't know what the new sales tax rate will actually be under their super awesome plan.
An official Senate estimate of a version proposed last year put the rate at around 7.5 to 8 percent. If the plan had included a prebate to every Missourian, the rate would have been closer to 11 percent.
An 11 percent rate means consumers would pay more than a dollar in taxes for every $10 they spend on food, clothing, entertainment, medical bills or almost anything else....
Even economists can't totally predict the effects of the fair tax because no state has implemented it.
Joe Haslag is an economist who works for the Show-Me Institute, a free-market think tank based in St. Louis and funded in part by Rex Sinquefield, a businessman who espouses and funds free-market ideas.
Haslag has written several essays about the tax proposal. The latest, co-authored with Washington University doctoral student Grant Casteel, says the average Missourian's welfare would at first decrease, but end up increasing over the course of several years, with predicted tax rates between 10 and 11 percent...
United for Missouri's Carl Bearden, a former House budget committee chairman, has a rosier outlook.
He forecasts just a 7 percent sales tax rate, and in fact prefers a version of the constitutional amendment that caps the rate at that amount.
So we have one Sinquefield-backed economist saying that the rate would be ten to eleven percent -- and he fully admits that it will harm Missouri's welfare at a time when families are already struggling to make ends meet. And we have an unethical Sinquefield-backed political hack who says the rate will only be 7ish percent. Bearden may honestly believe his own figure and support a plan without a "prebate" -- but with the added bonus that if his preferred rate is too low, crucial services and programs would be cut because it's capped in the constitution.
Either way, the very fact that we have no idea what sort of radical change is being proposed is just a little disconcerting. How are businesses, local governments and citizens supposed to evaluate how bad a big sales tax increase will be if proponents can't give a straight answer about what they want? The folks on Sinquefield's payroll in and around the Capitol answer to him -- so why won't his operation clear up the confusion?
If Rex's sales tax plan is the panacea it's promised to be, it shouldn't be hard to articulate and defend it.