Columbia residents speak out about proposed state sales tax increase

Monday, June 16, 2014 | 9:37 p.m. CDT; updated 7:07 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 17, 2014

COLUMBIA — A proposed three-quarter cent sales tax increase intended for transportation improvements drew mixed reviews from Boone County residents.

Residents attended an open house at the Activity and Recreation Center on Monday to discuss and share their opinions on the proposed state tax hike with representatives of the Missouri Department of Transportation and other government officials.

According to previous Missourian reporting, the tax would raise between an estimated $5.5 billion and $6 billion statewide over its proposed 10-year lifespan.

Travis Koestner, assistant district engineer for MoDOT's Central District, said the Central District would receive $486 million over 10 years.

That money would be used for several notable local projects, including reconfiguring and adding ramps at the Interstate 70 and Route 63 interchange,  an extension of Stadium Boulevard from Route 63 to Route WW, replacing and repairing multiple bridges, extending Columbia Transit hours by two hours a day, and building a new terminal at the Columbia Regional Airport, according to MoDOT.

MoDOT chose the projects based on the public's suggestions, according to previous Missourian reporting. The projects fall into two categories: "bridge and road" projects and "multimodal," or nonautomobile, projects.

Many people at the open house argued low-income residents would pay a larger percentage of their income in taxes compared to what wealthier individuals would pay. Adam Gresham, the chief of staff for state Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, disagreed.

Gresham cited the Bureau of Labor Statistics and said most of what low-income residents spend money on would be exempt under the proposal.

"If this proposal didn't make exemptions for certain things: food, gas, prescription medicine, mortgages and rent ... then I think there would be some merit to that," Gresham said. "But the reason we exempted those things is in order to make it more proportionate."

Cheryl Price, a member of the Columbia Disabilities Commission, is mostly in favor of the proposed sales tax increase, but is concerned that the draft list shows fewer transit projects than road and bridge projects.

"I'm excited about the fact that Columbia will get two extra hours of service on the days that we run," Price said. Those extra hours of service, she said, would allow her and others with disabilities to attend evening meetings downtown using normal transit rather than using the city's paratransit system.

Not everyone was in favor of this proposal.

"I think (Amendment 7) is the slickest political stunt ever pulled on the taxpayers of Missouri in the respect that it is sheltering major special interest groups," Boone County resident John Wilke said. "However, I think MoDOT has done an excellent job of allocating the funding for the proposed tax."

Wilke said he is not upset by the tax itself, but rather that not everyone driving on Missouri roads would have to pay it.

"My concern is one of fairness," Wilke said. "I'm not anti-tax, I'm not against increasing the sales tax, but it's essential to me that all the users on the tax contribute fairly towards the increase of the tax burden."

Missouri residents will have the opportunity to vote on the transportation sales tax proposal on Aug. 5.

Supervising editor is Samuel Hardiman.

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