Missouri transportation sales tax plan in jeopardy

JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — A proposed transportation sales tax that had appeared headed for the ballot now is in jeopardy of failing in the Missouri House, a potential casualty of a successful Republican push to cut income taxes.

House Democratic leaders said Friday that many of their members are backing away from their initial support of the sales tax increase after one of their own teamed up with Republicans this week to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a separate income tax cut measure.

“It’s actually given most everyone in the caucus second thoughts,” said House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis. “I think it’s fairly hypocritical of the majority to try to cut taxes and then raise taxes right after that.”

On Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Keith English, of Florissant, joined all 108 House Republicans to provide the two-thirds majority needed to override Nixon’s veto of the income tax cut legislation.

A separate proposed constitutional amendment would ask voters to raise the state sales tax by 0.75 cent to benefit roads, bridges and other transportation projects. An earlier version, proposing a 1-cent tax hike, passed the House in April with the support of 63 Republicans and 33 Democrats. It takes 82 votes to pass legislation in the House.

Because the measure was amended in the Senate, it must go back to the House for a final vote in order to appear on this year’s ballot. But lawmakers have just five working days before their session ends May 16, and support for the transportation tax is waning among Democrats.

“To ask the community — the citizens — to support a sales tax that is going to put a great deal of burden on the lower- and middle-income citizens when we have given huge tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy just doesn’t seem to be right,” said Rep. Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, the assistant House minority leader.

House Majority Leader John Diehl said Democrats are “being crybabies.” He said the transportation tax might not be able to pass without their support. So it might not even be brought up for a final House vote.

“The problem we have with it is that the Democrats have decided to kind of cry in their milk on the (income) tax cut override, and they’ve told me that they’re all walking on the transportation bill,” said Diehl, R-Town and Country.

Republicans hold 108 House seats, so they could pass legislation without Democratic support. But when the transportation tax initially cleared the chamber, 38 Republicans voted “no” and seven weren’t present.

Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, who sponsored the measure, said he hopes it can still pass — if he can pick up support from a few Republicans and unions can persuade enough Democrats to vote “yes” because of the potential construction jobs.

The proposal would raise the sales tax beginning in 2015 and is projected to generate $534 million annually. State transportation officials say that without more money, they soon will have difficulty doing anything other than maintaining the current roads and bridges.

The income tax cut would be gradually phased in starting in 2017, but each incremental reduction would occur only if state revenues continue rising by $150 million over their high mark from the previous three years. The measure is projected to reduce revenues by $620 million annually once fully implemented.

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