The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Joplin Metro

January 20, 2010

Committee advances bill aimed at addressing tax-stacking issue

By Debby Woodin

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A House committee on Wednesday gave a “do pass” recommendation on a bill intended to clarify state law on tax-stacking, which resulted in a lawsuit last year against the city of Joplin.

“This is an issue that is near and dear to the citizens of Joplin,” City Attorney Brian Head testified before the Special Standing Committee on General Laws at the state Capitol.

A lawsuit aimed at knocking out Joplin’s half-cent public safety sales tax or its 1-cent general fund sales tax was filed in July by a Farmington attorney and former state legislator, alleging that the city had violated state law by imposing more than one general tax.

The attorney, Tom Burcham, filed lawsuits against a few small cities before aiming for Joplin, including Purdy, Mount Vernon and Granby. Burcham has since said he will not press forward with the lawsuits, saying he would dismiss the actions to allow the Legislature to resolve the issue.

The rub

Burcham had contended that state law authorized cities to enact only one general sales tax and one capital projects sales tax. He sued the other cities for enacting multiple capital projects taxes, and Joplin for enacting the public safety tax, which is formally a general sales tax.

While Burcham contended that he filed the lawsuits in the interests of taxpayers who did not know that the technicalities of the law did not permit multiple taxes in those categories, he drew fire from critics affiliated with the Missouri Municipal League, who said his quest was intended to build a class-action lawsuit that would win him a big paycheck.

The legislation being proposed would allow cities to have more than one general sales tax and more than one capital projects tax, the House committee was told Wednesday. State law regarding the establishment of sales taxes earmarked for transportation projects, economic development, fire protection, and parks and stormwater projects are clearly specific in establishing limits on those taxes, unlike the state law on the two taxes at issue.

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