Senior tax break in question

Some Republican lawmakers in Missouri want to end a tax break for low-income senior citizens who live in rental housing, marking the latest attempt by the GOP-led Legislature to limit benefits for the elderly and disabled.

Republican Sen. Wayne Wallingford is sponsoring a measure to make the so-called “circuit breaker” tax credit only available to homeowners during the 2019 tax year, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The proposal would save the state an estimated $52 million.

Wallingford said Missouri can’t afford the program under which an estimated 91,000 low-income seniors who rent qualify for an average credit of roughly $500.

Single renters are eligible for the tax credit if their income is at $27,500 or below, and married renters qualify with incomes at $29,500 or below.

“This, I believe, is a tax credit program that’s been sorely in need of reform for some time,” said Republican Sen. Bob Onder.

Lawmakers have threatened to limit the tax break program before. In 2017, legislators debated reducing the tax credit as a way to restore cuts to personal care services that affected several thousand disabled and elderly residents.

Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed said she’s been fighting opposition to the tax credit for a decade. Nasheed plans to end the legislation through a filibuster.

“We have a lot of individuals on fixed incomes. We have used it in the past for renters and I think we should continue to use it,” Nasheed said. “Seniors are struggling every day.”

Supporters of the tax credit say the payouts allow disabled and elderly residents to stay comfortably in their homes instead of paying for expensive nursing homes.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee could vote the measure to the Senate floor as early as next week.

Mandatory minimum bill advances

The Missouri House is advancing a bill that would largely undo mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

House members gave the measure initial approval in a voice vote Tuesday. It needs another vote of approval to move to the Senate.

The legislation would allow judges to ignore mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for some nonviolent offenders.

Judges still would have to follow minimum sentencing laws for those convicted of violent crimes, sexual crimes against minors or crimes involving a gun.

The Republican-sponsored measure has bipartisan support in the House.

Republican Rep. Shamed Dogan during a Missouri Legislative Black Caucus press conference Monday also cited revamping mandatory minimum sentencing as a priority in the push for broader changes to the criminal justice system.

A similar Senate proposal has not yet had a hearing.

Tax incentive bill stalls

A proposal to expand a Missouri tax incentive program for businesses has passed the state House but is meeting pushback in the Senate.

A bill to allow the Department of Economic Development to dole out tax credits to businesses sooner passed the House 136-29 on Monday.

A similar proposal is stalled in the Senate.

Backers say the program would serve as a “closing fund” to attract and retain businesses. The proposals would allow the Economic Development Department to offer tax credits within a year of striking deals requiring businesses to meet certain job creation metrics.

Currently, tax incentives are available after jobs are created and are spread out over a period of years.

Some Senate Republicans criticized the program as corporate welfare and questioned whether it’s necessary.