Posts Tagged “taxes”

During this election season, Missouri has become a hotbed of political wrangling. In addition to an extremely close U.S. senatorial race, two proposed amendments to the state constitution have stirred controversy and led to the expenditure of multiple tens of millions of dollars by special interest groups for advertising.

The most controversial amendment is the so called “Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative” (a.k.a Amendment 2). According to supporters, this amendment will ensure that Missouri citizens have access to any and all cures and treatments that are developed from stem cell research, ensure that Missouri medical and research institutions can pursue any stem cell research allowed by the federal government, and ban human cloning. Indeed, the fair ballot language that voters will be presented with paints nothing but a rosy picture of Amendment 2. However, as Amendment 2’s opponents correctly argue, this amendment is deceptive.

The most deceptive claim is that this amendment will ban human cloning. Although the amendment clearly states, “no person may clone or attempt to clone a human being” (Section 38(d) 2(1)), the lengthy definition section redefines what constitutes cloning:

“Clone or attempt to clone a human being” means to implant in a uterus or attempt to implant in a uterus anything other than the product of fertilization of an egg of a human female by a sperm of a human male for the purpose of initiating a pregnancy that could result in the creation of a human fetus, or the birth of a human being. (Section 38(d) 6(2))

For the purposes of Amendment 2, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)—the first and primary step in creating a clone of a being—is not itself considered cloning. Rather, cloning supposedly begins when a cloned embryo “anything other than the product of fertilization” is implanted. Thus, Amendment 2 only outlaws reproductive cloning, while explicitly protecting therapeutic cloning.

In addition, the amendment claims that “no person may, for valuable consideration, purchase or sell human blastocysts or eggs for stem cell research or stem cell therapies and cures” (Section 38(d) 2(4)), which is supposed to prevent the exploitation of women for their eggs. However, again, the definition section strikes back. Specifically excluded from the definition of “valuable consideration” is “consideration paid to a donor of human eggs or sperm by a fertilization clinic or sperm bank” (Section 38(d) 6(17)), which leaves open a huge loophole.

Finally, even if one supports embryonic stem cell research, supporting this amendment doesn’t make sense. Why should this one procedure (SCNT) be written into the state constitution? Why should this one medical industry be immune from legislative oversight and control? Section 38(d) 2(7) forbids the state legislature from preventing, restricting, obstructing, discouraging, or creating disincentives for stem cell research or therapies (whatever all that can be construed to mean), and section 38(d) 5 forbids the state legislature from eliminating, reducing, denying, or withholding public funds either directly or indirectly related to stem cell research or treatments. No other industry is granted this level of autonomy from governmental intervention. Indeed, Amendment 2 would place embryonic stem cell research completely outside the reach of the state government. Isn’t it a matter of bad public policy to legally enshrine (in the state constitution, no less) one particular technology, especially when that technology is in its infancy, when we don’t know if it will actually produce anything worthwhile, when we don’t know what additional issues (ethical or otherwise) the technology might later raise, and when competing technologies might prove more viable?

Let’s imagine that Amendment 2 passes and that 20 years from now embryonic stem cells have been successful in producing the many cures and treatments that their current proponents tout. What would happen if a new, unforeseen and superior medical technology is developed that supersedes embryonic stem cell treatments? In such a situation, the state faces a dilemma. Although the state obviously ought to channel funding away from stem cell research and towards this new medical technology, it is constitutionally obligated to continue funding stem cell research. Technology doesn’t stand still. It evolves and current technology becomes obsolete. Therefore, we ought not legally obligate the state to support or privilege any particular technology.

Because of all this, I will be voting NO on Amendment 2.

Coming in just behind Amendment 2 on the controversy scale is Amendment 3, which would enact an additional tax of 4¢ per cigarette to be used towards “tobacco use education, prevention, and cessation programs and initiatives, and the improvement of health care access and treatment” for low income Missourians (Sections 37(b) 1, 8).

My primary objection to this amendment is that it is an amendment in the first place. Why does a tax on cigarettes belong in the state constitution? A state constitution should outline the structure of the state government, defining and limiting the powers of the various branches and offices. It is not the place to enact specific tax policies.

I would also be interested in seeing some demographic studies about the use of tobacco products and income level. My hunch is that tobacco use is greater amongst the lower income brackets. If this is the case, then Amendment 3 would disproportionately burden many of the people that it purports to help.

Furthermore, with only 3% of the funds raised by Amendment 3 designated for anti-smoking programs, the vast majority of the funds will be directed towards state-sponsored health care. Yet why should smokers be singled out in this way to fund medical care for all? Perhaps a more interesting and fair proposal would be to use the money from tobacco taxes to pay for the treatment of smoking-related diseases.

Because of all this, I will be voting NO on Amendment 3.

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So way back in 2004 (2 years ago!) I changed my state of residence, which meant that my state income tax returns for that year were a little more complicated than usual. According to my original calculations I owed $329 to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A few months later I received notice that my income had been high enough to require that I submit quarterly estimated income tax payments, and that since I hadn’t, I owed an additional $8.62 in penalties. (Yes, they tried to shake me down for less than $10!)

Well, that just pissed me off, so I dug through the income tax booklet and discovered a great fact. All income from a job in a state other than Pennsylvania is no longer taxable in PA after you change your state of residence. I had originally counted my income from both my pre-graduation church internship and my post-graduation, full-time job at the Library as taxable in PA. However, getting a full-time job in Missouri, living in Missouri, and getting a Missouri driver’s license pretty well establishes my Missouri residency, so I shouldn’t have reported that huge chunk of income from my Library job as taxable in PA. Not only did I not owe PA the $8.62, but they owed me $256!

I filed an amended return to correct my over-reporting of taxable income, but it was rejected for some odd reason. (“No, I’m not trying to claim tax forgiveness.”) This led to repeated phone calls with the Department of Revenue’s customer service department. Each time it took some explaining to get the customer service rep to understand what was going on, and each time I was eventually assured that I was correct and that I ought to be getting a refund shortly. However, each time my file was sent back to the tax examiner I got another rejection. (“No, I’m not trying to claim a credit for taxes paid to another state.”) Well, at long last, after my last call—during which the customer service rep talked to her supervisor who assured me that they would submit an extensive written explanation to the tax examiner—I got my refund! Rock on!

Now, time to amend my county tax return.

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