Hinson expects court to reject sales tax challenge

Missouri Association for Social Welfare questions ballot language

The Missouri House sponsor of a proposed ¾-cent state sales tax for transportation funding said Friday he believes “the judge will rule in our favor” and against the 13-page lawsuit filed Thursday that challenges the tax.

Lawmakers last month passed Rep. Dave Hinson’s proposed constitutional amendment, seeking voters’ approval of the sales tax increase for a 10-year period and the possibility of voter-approved extensions every decade.

Friday, the Missouri Transportation department released its preliminary draft list of the projects the tax would pay for, if voters endorse it.

Gov. Jay Nixon scheduled the proposal to appear on the Aug. 5 primary election ballot.

As certified by Secretary of State Jason Kander, the ballot language reads: “Should the Missouri Constitution be changed to enact a temporary sales tax of three-quarters of one percent to be used solely to fund state and local highways, roads, bridges and transportation projects for ten years, with priority given to repairing unsafe roads and bridges?

“This change is expected to produce $480 million annually to the state’s Transportation Safety and Job Creation Fund and $54 million for local governments. Increases in the gas tax will be prohibited. This revenue shall only be used for transportation purposes and cannot be diverted for other uses.”

Jeannette Mott Oxford, executive director of the Missouri Association for Social Welfare, filed the lawsuit Thursday, arguing “the Ballot Title is not a true or impartial statement of the purpose of the proposed constitution amendment and said official title is intentionally argumentative and is likely to create prejudice.”

Hinson, R-St. Clair, is one of the defendants. “This is a frivolous lawsuit,” he told the News Tribune in an e-mail. “I feel the ballot language is straight forward and does not confuse the voter.”

Kander is another one of the five elected officials named in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit argued Kander “certified the official ballot title of the proposed Constitutional Amendment, as passed by the Missouri legislature,” and asks the court to certify “a new revised summary statement and official ballot title.”

Kander spokesman Kevin Flannery said Friday: “When the legislature writes the language, our office’s process is ministerial.”

Although acknowledging that state law limits a lawmaker-written ballot title to just 50 words, the lawsuit asks the court to find that the language for the proposed amendment isn’t accurate in several ways, including a failure to use the words “use” taxes as well as sales taxes, doesn’t list the state’s current sales tax rate (4.225 percent) and doesn’t note the temporary tax includes a renewal option every 10 years.

The suit also questions the lawmaker-approved fiscal note, because they didn’t follow the process used by the state auditor’s office when it is asked to write the financial information for proposed amendments submitted by initiative petition.

Among the problems the suit claims the fiscal note has is that it includes the words “gas tax” but doesn’t include diesel fuel, and its estimated impact of $480 million a year is too low.

The suit asks the court to order the state auditor to prepare a new fiscal note summary and ballot language.

Other defendants in the suit are Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, and House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka. They could not be reached Friday for a comment on this story.

The suit was filed in Cole County circuit court and assigned to Judge Jon Beetem. No court hearing had been set by the end of Friday.

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