Last week, for reasons that are clear to no one, a small political disagreement over a relatively minor tax cut flared into a feud that has generated some national interest. The tax cut in question is Missouri’s House Bill 253, which, over the course of the next ten years, reduces the state income tax from 6.0% to 5.5% while dropping the corporate income tax from 6.25% to 3.25%. This bill comes as an attempt to reinvest the state budget surplus into the economy, with provisions for immediate cancellation of the cuts should the surplus disappear.
This is unacceptable to Missouri Democrats, namely Governor Jay Nixon, who vetoed the bill. Anti-tax activists have launched an effort to overturn the veto, gaining the interest and support of Texas Governor Rick Perry. Meanwhile, Democrats have dug in for the defense of the veto, accusing the bill of potentially cutting funding to Missouri’s state university system. This became a particular issue here on the campus of the University of Missouri – Columbia, where the Missouri Students Association (the student government) led a dramatic effort against HB 253.
I first became aware of the MSA’s efforts when one of my classes was delayed so that the student body president could harangue us for about five minutes about supposed dangers of the bill. Fliers were handed out advertising a rally against HB-253. My state-funded class seemed to have become a medium for aggressively pushing what were clearly the policies of the Democratic Party. The occasional bit of left wing dogma in the occasional lecture is just part of going to college, but using the authority of the University (at the expense of the students and taxpayers) to advocate one party’s view of a controversial issue, while not necessarily illegal, certainly struck me as ethically questionable.
We were told that the tax hikes would so deprive the University of funding that tuition hikes would inevitably follow. Even if that were true, the real fault for this would be with the University itself, not the state. It is rather difficult to accept that that the University of Missouri is desperately cash strapped when I walk past the recently constructed student center (built only three years ago at a cost of $63 million) or the $39 million Rec Center, to say nothing of the countless, relentless campus renovations, most of which serve no clear academic purpose. It is genuinely hard to believe that the school wouldn’t be able to find ways outside of tuition hikes to make up the difference of any budget cuts.
The event itself was something of a farce of fairness. We were halfheartedly reminded that there was more than one side to the issue and that we would hear speakers from both sides. This struck me as strange. The advertisements for the event made no mention of there being two sides to the issue (See the President of the MSA’s own letter to the students for example). The speakers included the President of the University system, the Chancellor of the school, the leading state legislators for and against the bill and the MSA President and Vice President. All of the speakers save for Caleb Rowden, the pro HB 253 legislator, and the MSA Vice President spoke vehemently against the bill.
There is nothing wrong with students organizing against legislation that they oppose, but to use the university itself to push the Democratic Party’s agenda brings shame to an otherwise very respectable institution. According to the its own budget, the MSA draws $1.5 million of its $1.7 million revenue from a “student activity fee” attached to tuition bills. Should the University of Missouri really loose funding because of the tax cut, I can think of no better area to trim the budget than useless organizations like the MSA, which seem to exist only to coax students into the leftist camp.