Missouri infrastructure proposals fail at state Capitol

Saturday, May 18, 2013 | 4:48 p.m. CDT; updated 6:55 p.m. CDT, Saturday, May 18, 2013

JEFFERSON CITY — Numerous Missouri lawmakers wanted to seek voter approval to boost funding for Missouri's transportation system and pay for improvements at colleges and state facilities. Neither measure made it that far.

State lawmakers wrapped up their annual session Friday without passing a proposed 1-cent sales tax for transportation or a state bonding package. Both would have required voter approval had they cleared the legislature.

Legislative leaders say they plan to return to the bonding package when they convene next year in Jefferson City, but the next step for the transportation sales tax is less clear. Supporters had targeted it for the November 2014 ballot and said they were not certain whether trying to bring the idea through the legislature next year is an option.

Leeriness about asking voters to approve a tax increase doomed the transportation measure. Opponents prevented a final vote in the Senate this past week and questioned whether passing a tax increase is consistent with GOP principles.

"I'm just a little worried about taking another billion dollars a year out of the economy, out of people's pockets," said Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph. "... It's just a lot to ask from people."

The transportation sales tax was expected to generate nearly $8 billion over a decade for state highways, local roads and other modes of transportation such as railroads, airports and river ports. Missouri's highway system long has depended on fuel taxes, but backers of the measure have said people drive more fuel-efficient vehicles and buy less gas when prices rise.

Rep. Dave Hinson, who sponsored the measure in the House, said too many critics of the legislation considered it a tax increase instead of merely a referral to voters.

"I think they feel that they have to protect the people from themselves, which to me is a little bit different than what the Republican philosophy usually is," Hinson, R-St. Clair, said. "And some people just are never going to vote for any type of thing that smells like a tax."

Under the sales tax measure, the state transportation commission would have developed a list of projects to be funded before the tax appeared on the ballot. If approved by voters, the commission would have produced an annual status report. Tax proceeds would have been divided, with cities and counties each getting 5 percent for local transportation needs. The remainder of the funds would have gone to state projects.

The tax would not have been levied on food or medicine, and voter approval would have been needed to change the gas tax rate or place tolls on existing roads and bridges.

A proposal to issue $1.2 billion worth of bonds did not fare better. Proceeds would have been spread, with $600 million for projects at higher education institutions, $200 million for new mental health facilities, $100 million for the state Capitol, $40 million for state parks and $20 million for loans to public school districts.

Some opponents suggested general revenue could be set aside for capital improvements instead of financing them through debt. Legislative leaders said the bonding measure had seemed to be on track for a two-year process.

"We need to do a detailed analysis; we need to see what the availability is for private giving; and we just simply didn't have the time to look into that," said Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles.

Rep. Chris Kelly, who championed the proposal co-sponsored by Republican House Speaker Tim Jones, said term limits seemed to have made it harder for lawmakers to make big decisions.

Kelly, D-Columbia, said work on the projects would have created many jobs and that it makes sense to spread costs over the useful life of the facility.

"I only hope that the delay does not cost the taxpayers too much money," he said.


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