The state of Missouri was given the go-ahead this week to include a question on the November statewide ballot to allow voters to decide whether they want to tax themselves to help cover transportation-related costs. Challenges to the tax question, however, may not be over.
The ballot question, or Proposition D, was approved by state lawmakers on the final day of the regular session. Approval cleared the way for a question to be included on the fall ballot to increase the state’s 17-cent-per-gallon fuel tax by a dime to 27 cents.
Previously HB1460, the ballot question includes authorization to create an “Emergency State Freight Bottleneck Fund.” The fund would be used to address traffic problems that affect the movement of freight.
A separate provision calls for providing a tax deduction for Missourians who win Olympic medals.
Claim the bill went too far, too fast
An Osage County, Mo., judge this week rejected a lawsuit heard in neighboring Cole County. The case brought by state Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, and activist Ron Calzone claimed the Missouri General Assembly went too far to include the tax increase question on the ballot.
The plaintiffs said the state constitution prohibits referendums from including multiple topics. They also complain that the fuel tax language was added to the bill late in the regular session and thus it did not go through the entire legislative process.
Associate Circuit Judge Robert Schollmeyer ruled on Tuesday, Aug. 14, against the lawsuit.
In his 14-page decision Schollmeyer wrote that the provisions “undoubtedly have a natural connection to regulating Missouri’s state revenue stream.” He added that “the taxes and the road fund are simply additional methods to accomplish HB1460’s broader purpose.”
Proposed increase would be phased in
Passage of Proposition D would result in the state’s first fuel tax increase since 1996. The tax rate would increase by 2.5-cent increments over four years.
Taxes on alternative fuels also would go up, to 27 cents by 2026.
The state’s fuel tax pays for road and bridge work, but it also supports the Missouri Highway Patrol.
Approval of the ballot question would also result in new revenue from the tax increase being routed into a fund dedicated to troopers.
When fully implemented, the state estimates the tax rate increase would raise $293 million annually for DOT-operated roads and $128 million for local roads.
The additional revenue would help address what the Missouri Department of Transportation has said is an $825 million gap in annual road and bridge funding.
Legal challenges to Proposition D, however, still loom. According to reports, plaintiffs Moon and Calzone have indicated an appeal could be upcoming.
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