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Sales tax increase amendment passes House, to face stiffer opposition in Senate

Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair
Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo – A bill with a constitutional amendment that would — with voter approval — add a 1 percent sales tax for Missouri Department of Transportation projects was passed, 96-53, in the House on Wednesday.

Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, sponsored the bill. Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, sponsored the same legislation in the Senate. The tax would bring in about $780 million annually or $7.8 billion over its 10 year period. Five percent of those funds will be deposited in an account for county road repairs with another five percent going into a fund for municipal road repairs.

The Missouri Department of Transportation maintains it is underfunded in the recent House budget. The department always has a fund, paid for with fuel taxes and license fees, that can only be used for the maintenance of state highways. Because MoDOT covers all of transportation in the state, they are also responsible for ports, passenger rail, public transit, aviation infrastructure and bicycle pedestals. What has been appropriated for all these costs is about $20 million, MoDOT special assignment coordinator Bob Brendel said.

“It’s hard to plan anything when you have to fight for it every year,” he said.

One of the representatives who voted against the bill in the House said the department is underfunded because the General Assembly has not increased its gas tax in more than a decade. Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Gladstone, said Missouri has the 46th lowest fuel tax in the country.

“That’s the way we’ve always funded the Department of Transportation,” he said. “We’ve never done a sales tax before.”

Kehoe said HJR 68 was the result of careful planning. Legislators presented to plan for focus groups around the state. They found that the public would vote for a sales tax because, “It is a very small expense on the Missouri household budget,” Kehoe said.

To get a gas tax that would cover the same funds raised by the 1 percent sales tax, gas would go up 25 to 30 cents a gallon.

“They would never vote for that,” Kehoe said.

Carpenter had a bill increasing the gas tax, but it carried a fiscal note of just over $100 million a year

Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City
Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City

There is also a budgetary issue. Kehoe said that MoDOT is underfunded because schools and healthcare have taken precedence for valuable general fund dollars. The Missouri Highway Commission determines what projects are pursued across the state. In his district, Kehoe said he was looking forward to expanding Hwy 63 to four lanes between Rolla and Jefferson City. In Jefferson County, some of the sales tax dollars would go to the development of a river port.

“I have a lot of faith in the process,” he said.

Kehoe also has faith in his Senate colleagues, but it’s a hesitant faith. The Senate just passed a tax-cut proposal last week. In that debate, Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, specifically said that it made no sense to cut taxes and then turn right around and raise taxes. He then said he would not vote for the sales tax increase.

The “no” votes in the House may also be a predictor of future troubles in the Senate, where the measure failed last year. The 53 representatives who voted against the tax included two black caucus members – Brandon Ellington and Randy Dunn, both of Kansas City – a moderate Republican – Mike Cierpiot, less moderate Republicans – Eric Burlison, Doug Funderburk and Kevin Engler, and hardcore conservatives – Paul Curtman and Nick Marshall.