The State Supreme Court heard arguments on both sides of ballot issues that would raise tobacco taxes, increase the state’s minimum wage and cap interest rates on payday loans. If they’re found to pass constitutional muster, voters will decide in November.
Father Richard Creson of Holy Trinity in St. Louis is among those who collected signatures to get a measure on the ballot that would cap interest rates on payday loans. He says it’s devastating the needy, and says in the church, it’s called “usury,” which is a sin. He’s joined by other faith based group leaders, who say it’s predatory lending. Interest rates on payday loans can be more than 400 percent annually, according to one study. And critics say the industry knows Missouri is a state lax on regulating them — “There are over twice as many payday loan stores in Missouri as there are McDonald’s and Starbucks combined.”
Attorneys asking the State Supreme Court to declare the measures unconstitutional say say the ititiative petitions contain fiscal notes that are unfair, which have been decided by the State Auditor. Attorney Chuck Hatfield argued that it’s not the auditor’s function to project financial estimates — “there’s absolutely no audit here.” He was joined by nine other lawyers on either side of the issue, and says while the matter was “well-lawyered,” he can’t say how the court will decide.
Hatfield says he was pleased the judges were very engaged, but says that’s not a clear indication of how they might write an opinion on the case.
If the high court doesn’t issue an opinion on the case, it would remand the cases back to Cole County Circuit Court, where two judges issued dissenting opinions on the constitutionality of the ballot issues. Those decisions could, again, be appealed. There is some urgency to decide the cases since only six weeks remain for them to make it on the November ballot.
Also, Judge Ray Price retires in a few weeks, and it’s thought since he heard this case — probably his last on the Supreme Court bench — he would want to be a part of the opinion handed down.
AUDIO: Jessica Machetta reports (1:20)