Missouri drops its appeal of real estate ballot measure

Friday, September 3, 2010 | 2:57 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — An initiative barring taxes on home and land sales is clear to appear on Missouri's ballot after the state dropped an appeal Friday of a judge's decision ordering the election.

The measure will ask voters on Nov. 2 whether to amend the Missouri Constitution to prohibit real estate transfer taxes, which typically are charged like sales taxes based on the price of the property.

Missouri does not currently levy such taxes, though backers of the ballot measure say they are charged in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

Secretary of State Robin Carnahan initially determined that initiative supporters failed to get enough petition signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Election officials discounted signatures from registered voters who did not live in the county listed on the form they signed. They also did not count signatures submitted by petition gatherers who did not register with the secretary of state.

On Tuesday, Cole County Circuit Judge Paul Wilson ordered the measure on November ballot.

In a 40-page ruling, Wilson said that not counting those signatures would infringe on the constitutional rights of people who signed the petitions. The judge wrote that Missouri laws imposing procedural requirements on petition circulators "threaten to punish registered voters to make the proponents and circulators behave."

"This is the very definition of an unconstitutional burden, and it cannot be permitted in this case," Wilson said in his original ruling.

Carnahan spokeswoman Laura Egerdal said the state had appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court because Wilson had questioned the constitutionality of state statutes. At the same, Carnahan also had followed his order and certified the measure for the November ballot.

Absentee ballots must be available to voters by Sept. 21, and an appeal likely would have created uncertainty about the real estate measure both for voters and local election authorities, Egerdal said.

So attorneys for initiative supporters, Carnahan's office and Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster agreed to jointly ask Wilson to modify his original ruling in exchange for scrapping the appeal.

On Thursday, Wilson rescinded his original ruling and instead issued a one-page decision ordering the measure on the ballot without providing any lengthy rationale. Egerdal said the state dropped its appeal Friday.

The ballot measure is backed by the Missouri Association of Realtors, which reported giving $150,000 on Aug. 30 to the newly created campaign committee "Vote Yes to Stop Double Taxation."

Jefferson City attorney Chuck Hatfield, who represents initiative supporters, said the legal resolution was good for all parties.

"The secretary of state may move ahead with the important work of finalizing the fall ballot. The taxpayers are spared the time and expense of litigation. And our committee can focus on informing Missouri voters about the need" to support for the ballot measure, Hatfield said.




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