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Lonely push to repeal Hancock Amendment carries political fallout

FILE PHOTO -- Rep. Mel Hancock, R-Mo., criticizes proposed Amendment 4, which he calls "Amendment Fraud," during a news conference Tuesday, March 26, 1996, in Jefferson City, Mo. Hancock also said he will not run for governor despite a challenge from Gov. Mel Carnahan. (AP Photo/Kelley McCall)

Former U.S. Rep. Mel Hancock, who lent his name to a state constitutional amendment that resulted in tax refunds for millions of Missourians, has died.

Hancock's wife, Alma, said her husband died early Sunday in his sleep at their home in Springfield. He was 82.

Hancock represented Missouri's 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1989 to 1997. But he was perhaps best known for his authorship of an amendment to the Missouri Constitution, approved by voters in 1980, that limits state tax collections to a percentage of the growth in the personal income of state residents. When revenues exceed the cap, tax refunds automatically are triggered _ something that occurred regularly during the booming economic period of 1995-1999.

The constitutional amendment, which has come to be known simply as the Hancock Amendment, also prohibits the state from imposing unfunded mandates on local governments.

Hancock, a native of Cape Fair, graduated from Missouri State University and then served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. In 1969, he co-founded Federal Protection Inc., a business specializing in bank security that is still operating in Springfield. As a businessman, Hancock also delved into Republican politics.

He lost a 1982 GOP primary for U.S. Senate to incumbent John Danforth and lost the 1984 election for lieutenant governor to Democrat Harriett Woods. He finally won office by prevailing in a four-way Republican primary for Congress in 1988 and then winning the general election in the Republican-leaning southwest Missouri district.

In Congress, he built a reputation as a fiscal and social conservative. Hancock was one of 20 lawmakers who filed suit in 1992 attempting to stop a planned congressional pay raise. He attached an amendment to a bill in 1994 that would have cut federal funds to school districts that teach acceptance of homosexuality. In 1995, Hancock was one of 31 House members to receive a perfect 100 score from the American Conservative Union _ a step better than the 99 average he had compiled from 1989 to 1995.

When he opted not to seek re-election in 1996, Hancock said he was fulfilling a self-imposed four-term limit he had pledged to voters when he first ran. Hancock considered _ but opted against _ a challenge in 1996 to Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan, who had been a primary political nemesis because of their long-running disagreement over state tax policy.

Asked about the impending tax refunds in 1998 as a result of his constitutional amendment, Hancock expressed a mixture of satisfaction and skepticism of government. "If they didn't have to send it back because of the constitution, they wouldn't have ever done it," Hancock said.

Besides his wife, Hancock is survived by two sons and a daughter. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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