Citing concerns that the Missouri Chamber of Commerce doesn’t adequately support school districts, the Platte City Area Chamber of Commerce (PCACC) has issued a resolution calling upon the governor and the Missouri General Assembly to end partisan bickering as they struggle to provide school funding.
While the resolution doesn’t mention the Missouri Chamber of Commerce by name, both Platte County R-3 Superintendent Mark Harpst and PCACC director Karen Wagoner criticized the state chamber in a recent meeting of the chamber.
At the meeting, held Thursday in the Northland Career Center, Dr. Harpst called on the state chamber to open their “ears and eyes to local education.”
The controversy stems out of the state’s budget crisis and Gov. Bob Holden’s withholding of nearly $200 million from the state’s public education budget. The state chamber has come under fire from some area chambers for opposing certain corporate tax increase proposals. The state chamber believes that corporate tax hikes would hurt Missouri more than help in the long run.
“They need to get tuned in to their local chambers,” Wagoner told The Landmark. “They don’t seem to plug themselves in and find out (what’s happening in local towns). The smaller local chambers support their school districts, and we understand the importance of a strong educational system when it comes to economic issues.”
In response to a Webb City Area Chamber of Commerce letter to the state chamber — a letter referenced by both Harpst and Wagoner — state chamber president Dan Mehan outlined his group’s position on state funding for education.
“Let me assure you, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry is in complete support of providing the funding that gives all Missouri children a quality education,” Mehan wrote.”We have never supported an agenda that would cut public education funding, nor will we in the future support an agenda that harms Missouri’s public education system.”
Mehan said any claims to the contrary were both “unfair and inaccurate.”
“There are those that have attempted to frame the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s opposition to the inequitable corporate tax increases that were proposed during the 2002 and 2003 Legislative Sessions as a position against public education funding,” Mehan said. “We objected to the corporate tax increase proposals in the last legislative session because most were unwise and would have caused far more damage to Missouri’s economy than any tax revenue that would have been generated.”
This is not the first time in recent months in which Platte City has had a disagreement over financial issues with the state chamber. The Platte City aldermen voted in September to be excluded from the state’s proposed sales tax holiday for back-to-school supplies from Aug. 13-15.
In that decision, city aldermen expressed concern over potential lost revenues. The state chamber has criticized the nearly 38 counties and 68 cities who have also chosen to opt out of the plan. In addition to Platte City, Blue Springs, Excelsior Springs, Riverside, Smithville and St. Joseph are among the cities to exclude themselves from the tax holiday.
The chamber believes that in addition to affording families a break on school supplies — many of which are now being required by certain school districts — it could actually boost sales of non-exempt items in stores.
“We think it’s a knee-jerk reaction,” Ray McCarty, director of financial affairs for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce recently told the Kansas City Star. “It’s an age-old thinking that the state shouldn’t be pushing that down to a local level.”
Wagoner said she hopes for the opposite, that the state chamber and area chambers will have a closer relationship in the future.
“The bottom line is, before they used to represent the local chambers,” Wagoner said. “Right now they don’t.”