ELECTION 2014: Missouri voters reject transportation tax

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 8/6/2014

Voters in Missouri rejected a proposed three-fourth-cent sales tax increase on Tuesday that would have raised $5.4 billion during the next decade for transportation work.

Amendment 7 was defeated by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent. As a result, state lawmakers will have to go back to the drawing board to address 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.

Opponents said the general sales tax increase would disproportionately affect young, poor and minority residents. They also complained that a general sales tax increase would be a sweetheart deal for the trucking industry, which critics such as Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions blamed for most road damage.

Supporters for Amendment 7 said something needs to be done to help the Missouri Department of Transportation address an approaching funding cliff.

Dave Nichols, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, said the agency is already being forced to make do with far less revenue than in previous years, with no light at the end of the tunnel. He said the annual budget is projected to dip to $325 million by 2017 – the lowest since 1992.

“We will continue our focus on safety, maintaining our roads and bridges, and providing outstanding customer service with the resources we have,” Nichols said in a news release late Tuesday.

The tax increase would have raised about $480 million annually for highways, transit, ports, airports, and bike and walking paths. The remaining $54 million a year would have been split between cities and counties for local projects.

Voters would have decided in 10 years whether to extend the tax for another decade.

A protection was included in Amendment 7 to prevent revenue from the tax being diverted away from transportation.

State lawmakers would also have been prohibited from increasing the state’s 17-cent-per-gallon fuel tax or charging highway users to drive on existing roadways without voter approval.

Gov. Jay Nixon opposed the amendment. In a recent statement he acknowledged the state’s “long-term transportation infrastructure needs.” However, he said the tax “would fall disproportionately on Missouri’s working families and seniors … while giving the heaviest users of our roads a free pass.”

Missouri voters haven’t approved a statewide sales tax increase since 1993. A tax for roads hasn’t been approved since 1992.

Stephen Miller, chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, said he was disappointed in the result, “but the people have spoken and we respect that.”

“As we have seen for the past several years, I think Missourians have a clear understanding that more resources need to be invested in our transportation infrastructure, but there just isn’t any consensus on how to pay for it,” Miller stated. “We need to continue working toward that end.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association supported the tax question. The Association cited state lawmakers’ unwillingness or inability to increase the state’s 17-cent-per-gallon fuel tax for their support. In addition, the amendment would have forbidden the state to add tolls to any existing roadways for the next decade.

Missouri voters did approve an amendment to the state’s Constitution to expand safeguards against unreasonable searches and seizures to include “electronic communication and data.”

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