Tax increase to fund transportation stalls in House

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 | 12:41 p.m. CDT; updated 4:11 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 13, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY – A proposal to increase transportation funding through a sales tax increase has stalled in the House because Democrats are reconsidering their support following the recent passage of an income tax cut.

The proposed transportation sales tax increase initially passed the House by a margin of 96-53 with 33 Democrats and 63 Republicans voting for it. Originally, the proposal would have increased the sales tax by one cent, and it would have increased revenue by about $720 million to fund transportation infrastructure.

The bill must be passed by the House again because the Senate reduced the tax increase to three-quarters of cent, reducing the revenue generated a year to about $550 million. If the tax increase passes both chambers, it would have to be approved by voters before it would go into effect.

Following a veto override by the Republicans and the subsequent passage of a $620 million income tax cut, some Democrats like Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, are reconsidering their vote on the tax increase.

Webber said we need to address Missouri’s transportation problems, but this bill, following the tax cut, further shifts the tax burden from the wealthy onto the middle class.

“I’m certainly willing to ask people to sacrifice money in order to build this state, but I’m not willing to continue asking the middle class to sacrifice a disproportionate share,” he said.

Minority Floor Leader Rep. Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, said this bill lost a lot of support from his caucus following the tax cut because a lot of Democrats see it as hypocritical to cut the state budget while asking for a sales tax increase.

Hummel said the only thing the caucus would accept in a trade for its votes is Medicaid expansion, a provision under the Affordable Care Act, which would expand coverage to more people in the state.

But, Majority Floor Leader Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, said there was “zero” chance the Republicans would make that trade.

“It (the transportation sales tax increase) passed twice, so I think the votes are here,” Diehl said. “The only problem is the Democrats want to hold it hostage for something else.”

Hummel said if the Republicans really wanted to pass the bill, they shouldn’t need help from Democrats.

"What I find really ironic is that everyone seems to think they need the Democrats to pass this when the Republicans have 108 members in the House," he said. "Why all of a sudden do they need us to help pass their bill?"

The bill sponsor, Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, said the Democratic votes are necessary because not enough Republicans voted for it initially, and he doesn’t expect them switch their vote now.

For the bill to pass, it needs 82 votes in favor, meaning Hinson would need 19 Democrats to vote for the proposal if Republican support were to stay the same. He said he thinks the bill will pass before the session adjourns Friday.

"I think we’ll get there," he said. "There were a lot of hurt feelings on the Democrats’ aisle. I understand that, but this is the wrong bill to hold hostage, and I hope they don’t, and I don’t think they will."

Supervising editor is Gary Castor.

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