House backs penny sales tax for roads

Editor's note: Please see the correction at the bottom of this article.

The Missouri House on Tuesday gave first-round approval to a 10-year, 1-cent sales tax increase dedicated to transportation projects, after rejecting two proposed amendments that would have raised state fuel and diesel taxes and limited funding for bicycle infrastructure.

The proposed constitutional amendment needs another affirmative vote in the House before moving to the Senate. If both House and Senate approve the same language, the issue would be placed on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

If adopted by voters this November, the tax would go into effect at the start of 2015, with the option for renewal every 10 years.

The 1 percent increase in Missouri’s sales and use tax would raise an estimated $800 million over 10 years to help offset the state transportation department’s current funding shortfall.

The revenue generated from the tax would be split among three new trust funds: 5 percent would be allocated to counties, 5 percent would go toward municipalities and the remaining 90 percent would be used for funding public transportation facilities — mostly for roads and bridges.

Debated Tuesday were two amendments submitted by Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific.

His first proposal would have removed the word “bicycle” from the list of transportation forms able to receive funding from the tax — a move the House was quick to block.

“I’d just like to congratulate the representative on his backpedaling,” said Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Frankford.

Rep. Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis, joined the opposition to the amendment, citing issues with the larger bill at hand.

“If we’re going to have this task, then we need to make sure we have a policy that includes bicycles and other forms of transportation,” she said.

Curtman’s second amendment, which would ensure that the sales tax complied with the guidelines of the Hancock Amendment, was adopted with little discussion. The Hancock Amendment states that a revenue surplus exceeding a personal income-based threshold must be refunded to taxpayers.

The House also voted against an amendment introduced by Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Gladstone, that would have increased the state fuel tax by 3 cents and the diesel tax by 9 cents — a proposal that Carpenter claimed was more “fair and equitable” than a flat sales tax increase.

Carpenter argued that the state fuel tax has not increased in more than two decades and has, consequently, failed to keep pace with inflation. He said Missouri’s fuel tax rate of 17 cents per gallon is one of the lowest in the country, and far beneath the 30 cents per gallon national average.

Furthermore, he added, even with a “modest” 3-cent increase, the tax rate still would be less than all of Missouri’s bordering states, except Oklahoma.

Correction: The original version of this story listed the incorrect numbers for the average national fuel rate for the U.S., Oklahoma and Illinois, according to the American Petroleum Institute. The nationwide average gasoline tax, which includes federal and the average state gas tax, is 49.89 cents per gallon. The total state taxes and fees in Illinois is 39.10 cents per gallon and is 17 cents per gallon in Oklahoma.

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