Moon files lawsuit to keep fuel tax increase off the November ballot

   

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Republican representative and a conservative activist are challenging the constitutionality of the bill that included a fuel tax increase in court. If successful, Missourians will not be voting on increasing the fuel tax this November.

Rep. Mike Moon and Ronald Calzone have filed a lawsuit in Cole County alleging that HB 1460, which was by Rep. Jean Evans, violated the Missouri Constitution on “procedural infirmities,” including violations of the single subject and clear title clause. They also allege the bill was not the proper vehicle for a ballot measure.

A fuel tax increase — which, upon voter approval, would gradually increase fuel taxes in Missouri from 17 cents a gallon to 27 cents a gallon by 2022 — was tacked onto Evans’ bill on the finals days of the legislative session.

The need for improved roads and bridges in the Show-Me State is a common topic of discussion, but just how to do that is hotly debated.

The gas tax increase has caused a lot of debate among legislators and Republicans are split on the issue.

“Not to say we don’t need infrastructure, because we do, but I think though we need to do it the right way,” said Moon.  

Gov. Mike Parson has indicated his support for the increase, saying the state cannot continue delaying a major infrastructure plan. On the floor, during final debate of the bill, Rep. Rocky Miller impassionately argued against the bill, saying it wasn’t the correct way to go about infrastructure funding.

“First, we need to keep it off the ballot,” said Moon. “Then, if we are successful there, hopefully Judge Green — whose court it has been assigned to — will rule…that this bill does indeed violate the constitution.”

The lawsuit is filed against the Missouri Secretary of State, the Director of the Missouri Department of Revenue, the Director of the Department of Transportation, and the Superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Daniel Green has been assigned as judge in the case that was filed July 2, 2018.

“I swore an oath to support the Constitution of Missouri,” said Moon. “The Constitution has been violated.”

Evans’ legislation started out as the “Olympic Dream Freedom Act” which authorized a tax deduction for any prize or award won by an Olympic medalist. HB 1460 passed the Missouri House in a 109-39 vote on February 15, 2018.

The Senate sent the bill back to the House on May 17, 2018 — the second to last day of the regular legislative session — with a multitude of changes including a title change and a gas tax provision.

The Senate’s amended version of HB 1460 added a referendum clause along with a fuel tax increase, funding for the Highway Patrol, and a new “Emergency State Freight Bottleneck Fund.” The amendment bill was narrowly Truly Agreed To and Finally Passed by a 88-60 vote in the House.

Finally approval of the bill came on the last day of session. According to the lawsuit, 44 percent of bills passed in the 2018 legislative session were passed during the final two days.

The bill was signed by the Speaker of the House and the Pro Tem of the Senate. The signature of the governor was not required for the bill since it sent the matter to the voters.

Moon filed a formal constitutional objection to the bill on May 30, 2018.

The lawsuit is alleging that the bill, as passed, violates Article III of the Missouri Constitution on five different counts. Moon and Calzone claim the bill purpose of the bill changed, that it is not confined to a subject, that the title was unclear, that the title was improperly changed, and that it was not the proper vehicle for a ballot measure.

Those who supported the bill with the addition of the provisions argue that all of components of HB 1460 relate to state revenue thus only covers a single subject. Proponents also point out that it is within the purview of the General Assembly to send measures to the voters.

As is stands, sans action by the court, Missouri voters will be asked if they want to increase the state’s gas tax and exempt olympic winnings from taxable income in the same ballot measure.

“Shall Missouri law be amended to fund Missouri state law enforcement by increasing the motor fuel tax by two and one half cents per gallon annually for four years beginning July 1, 2019, exempt Special Olympic, Paralympic, and Olympic prizes from state taxes, and to establish the Emergency State Freight Bottleneck Fund?” reads the official ballot measure on the Secretary of States webpage.

Alisha Shurr is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University. Contact Alisha at alisha@themissouritimes.com.