A question on Missouri’s fall ballot has survived another legal challenge. The question will allow voters to decide whether they want to tax themselves to help cover transportation-related costs.
The Missouri Court of Appeals Western District dismissed a petition brought by state Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, and activist Ron Calzone that claimed the Missouri General Assembly went too far by including the tax increase question on the Nov. 6 ballot.
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 statewide 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.
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.
Judge Victor Howard wrote an opinion on Tuesday, Sept. 4, on behalf of the three-judge appellate panel. In his nine-page opinion, Howard ruled that procedural concerns were not enough to allow the court to weigh in on the proposal.
He added that because the legislation “may never be enacted by voters,” claims about legality of the possible tax increase are premature.
Earlier court ruling
The appeals court ruling comes three weeks after an Osage County, Mo., judge ruled the question could appear on the statewide ballot.
Associate Circuit Judge Robert Schollmeyer wrote last month 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.”
Legal challenges to the ballot question, however, still loom. Plaintiffs Moon and Calzone have the option to ask the Missouri Supreme Court to intervene.
Passage of Proposition D by voters 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 would also be raised 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.
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