(The Center Square) – Missouri lawmakers during their 2021 regular legislative session debated bills proposing revisions to state emergency laws with nearly all calling for restricting local health officials’ capacities to order business shutdowns.
Ultimately, two significant pieces of legislation emerged – one placing a bevy of new limitations on local public health orders and one that would allow commercial property owners to claim a tax refund on property taxes if they operate in a city or county that imposed a restriction that shut them down last year.
Gov. Mike Parson signed House Bill 271 into law on June 15, which limits state of emergencies declared to stop infectious disease outbreaks to no more than 30 days without approval of city/county elected officials.
But the governor Friday vetoed Senate Bill 226, an omnibus bill that included the pandemic property tax refund for businesses shut down by local health orders.
“While I recognize and applaud the General Assembly in their effort to improve the laws governing taxation, I cannot approve this bill as presented to me,” Parson wrote in his two-page veto letter.
SB 226 emerged from the Senate Ways & Means Committee. It was carried in the Senate by Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, and in the House by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-South St. Louis County.
The bill was heavily amended in committees and on chamber floors before being adopted overwhelmingly in the Senate, 34-1, on May 12, and 142-1 on May 14 in the House.
SB 226 would allow a property owner to claim a tax refund on property taxes owed by a commercial business forced to shut down if a city or county imposed restrictions in 2021.
The refunds would be based on how many months a local government imposed restrictions. School districts, which assess most property taxes in the state, are exempt.
Parson himself on Jan. 28 told the Missouri Press Association that businesses shouldn’t have to pay property taxes for times they were ordered closed because of the pandemic.
“I can’t imagine me trying to pay for my family and for my kids living and government coming in some day and saying you can’t put your key in your own business and you can’t open up and make a living for your family,” he said.
But the pandemic property tax refund provision in SB 226 was first on his list of objections, calling it so broadly written that “nearly anyone living in a city or county could claim a property tax credit under the language of the bill.”
Local governments, including the cities of Springfield and St. Louis, lobbied Parson to veto SB 226 because, by some estimates, some municipalities that imposed health-related restrictions on businesses could need to refund up to 25% of their annual property tax collections in the coming year.
St. Louis County estimated it would need to issue about $9 million in refunds and the city of St. Louis, up to $12 million in refunds. Springfield projected $2 million in refunds to local businesses.
“This is a significant departure from the current tax structure in Missouri and could severely undermine the ability of cities and counties to provide local services,” Parson wrote.
The Missouri Restaurant Association did not return calls regarding SB 226. Friday phone messages left with the Missouri chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) were not immediately returned.