Missouri Senate endorses putting $5 billion road plan to voters

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Missouri voters could soon decide whether to tax themselves to raise $5.3 billion during the next decade for transportation work.

The Senate voted 22-10 on Tuesday, April 29, to approve a scaled-back resolution to raise about $534 million a year in new revenue for transportation through a three-fourths-cent general sales tax. House Joint Resolution 68 now moves back to the House for approval of changes.

If both chambers can agree on a final version, the proposed constitutional amendment would head to voters this November.

House lawmakers voted 96-53 earlier this month to impose a 1-cent general sales tax for the next decade. A 1-cent tax would raise $800 million a year in new revenue.

A year after a similar effort was derailed by a Senate filibuster, Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said the revision was necessary to get enough support in the Senate.

“I would like to see the voters in Missouri have the opportunity to see if this is the proper way for them to fund transportation,” Kehoe said during Senate floor discussion.

Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, played a big part in the effort’s demise a year ago. His thoughts about the sales tax remain the same.

He said this week that while he “wholeheartedly” supports the need to fund the state’s infrastructure, he doesn’t believe that raising the combined state and local sales tax into the top 10 nationally is the appropriate path. Instead, Lamping said he would prefer to use a portion of the existing 3 percent state sales tax for transportation purposes.

Dave Nichols, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, has advocated for a new revenue source. During a recent Senate committee hearing, he said that without additional money, the state’s roads will decline and safety will be compromised.

He has referred to the state’s construction budget for roads and bridges, which has fallen from about $1.3 billion annually in 2010 to $685 million this year.

Nichols added that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. The annual budget is projected to dip to $325 million by 2017 – the lowest since 1992.

HJR68 would split 10 percent of the new revenue between cities and counties for local projects.

A protection was included to prevent revenue from the tax being diverted away from transportation.

The resolution would also prohibit state lawmakers from increasing the state’s 17-cent-per-gallon fuel tax and prohibit charging highway users from driving on existing roadways without voter approval.

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