JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A judge has ruled against a lawsuit seeking to remove a referendum from the November ballot sent to the voters by the General Assembly, giving Missourians the final say on increasing the fuel tax, creating a tax deduction on Olympic medals, and the creation of a “Emergency State Freight Bottleneck Fund.”
In his ruling, Osage County Circuit Judge Robert Schollmeyer determined that the procedures used to place the referendum on the ballot did not violate the Missouri Constitution as alleged by Rep. Mike Moon and attorney Ron Calzone — the co-plaintiffs on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleged that the final version of House Bill 1460 did not adhere to the original purpose and intent of the bill and including more than a single subject.
The referendum, known as Proposition D, was approved in the closing hours of the 2018 legislative session. In the final days of session, lawmakers added the fuel tax increase and bottleneck fund to the bill that dealt with tax deductions for Olympic medals.
“We are alleging they have passed a bill using unconstitutional, illegal procedures,” Calzone said during an August 7 hearing.
Schollmeyer — who was not the original judge in the case — disagreed.
“The changes to H.B 1460 do not clearly and undoubtedly violate the constitutional limitation on changes to a bill’s original purpose,” said Schollmeyer.
In his 14-page decision, Schollmeyer said that the different pieces of legislation fit to under a common title because each of the provisions are geared towards regulating Missouri’s revenue law.
“The provisions undoubtedly have a natural connection to regulating Missouri’s state revenue stream,” he said in his judgement. He also wrote in the ruling that, “There are no provisions in H.B. 1460 that do not ‘relate to state revenues.’”
Missouri’s motor fuel tax, at 17-cents, is the lowest in the nation. If approved the referendum would gradually increase the tax by 10-cents per gallon.
A campaign committee has already been created to support the measure. SaferMo.com, which were intervenes for the defense of the lawsuit, has already brought in more than $300,000 in donations.
“SaferMO.com appreciates the court’s clear decision dismissing this baseless attempt to keep Missouri voters from having a say on Proposition D. Our statewide coalition is growing and moving full speed,” said Scott Charton, spokesman for the group.
Moon and Calzone said they are working on an expedited appeal and are disappointed in the ruling.
“In a time when Missourians are clamoring for checks and balances between the different branches of government,” said Moon, “it appears that the legislature is being handed an open checkbook… whatever the legislature wants, the courts will ‘have their backs.’”
“It’s always disappointing to lose in court,” said Calzone, “but it’s particularly disappointing when the judge doesn’t bother to address your most powerful argument, one supported by almost a century of Missouri Supreme court opinions on similar lawsuits.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.