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Judge keeps gas tax on November ballot

Judge keeps gas tax on November ballot

August 14th, 2018 by Bob Watson in Missouri News

Missouri drivers could see a jump in gasoline prices as spring draws closer. Last year, gas prices spiked 74 cents between February and Memorial Day.

Photo by Associated Press /News Tribune.

Document: Ruling: Ronald J. Calzone and C. Michael Moon v. John R. Ashcroft, et al.

Special Judge Rob Schollmeyer ruled Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, that the proposed 10-cents-a-gallon fuels tax increase will stay on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Missouri's proposed 10-cents-a-gallon fuels tax increase will stay on the Nov. 6 general election ballot, Special Judge Rob Schollmeyer ruled Tuesday.

But Ron Calzone, of Dixon, and state Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, said they are working on "an expedited appeal" of Schollmeyer's decision.

They wanted the Cole County Circuit Court to remove the proposal from the ballot, arguing the way lawmakers passed it violated processes mandated by the Missouri Constitution.

Among their arguments was that the final bill, which included a statewide vote on the fuels tax proposal, was different from the bill's original purpose, which was a tax credit for Olympic medal winners.

But, Schollmeyer said in a 14-page ruling: "(The bill's) original purpose was to regulate Missouri's revenue laws. The changes to House Bill 1460 do not clearly and undoubtedly violate the constitutional limitation on changes to a bill's original purpose."

The judge noted the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that "a bill's original purpose can be ascertained without reference to the original title, itself," and that the court's inquiry about a bill's purpose "focuses on what broader purpose does the bill, as introduced, serve to accomplish?"

Calzone and Moon had argued that Supreme Court rulings from 1922 and 1945 should drive the judge's decision.

Calzone noted the 1945 ruling said: "Where the title of an act descends to particulars, the particulars stated ordinarily become the subject of the act and the act must conform to the title as expressed by the particulars."

In their lawsuit and in a hearing before Schollmeyer last week, Calzone argued that "'a tax deduction for certain Olympic athletes' constitutes 'particulars,' and any amendment beyond that is unconstitutional."

Calzone said Tuesday: "It's particularly disappointing when the judge doesn't bother to address your most powerful argument, one supported by almost a century of Missouri Supreme court opinions on similar lawsuits."

He and Moon pointed to a recent veto by Gov. Mike Parson, which blocked a bill about treatment courts because it included abandoned property, nuisance abatement and the salaries of police officers, which "have nothing to do with treatment courts or courts in general."

The lawsuit also argued the changes made to the bill during the legislative process violated the Constitution's restriction that "no bill shall contain more than one subject."

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Schollmeyer wrote: "The Court finds that 'relating to state revenues' is a permissible subject. The title is also similar to other bills upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court. For those reasons, H.B. 1460 does not clearly and undoubtedly violate" the state Constitution.

The judge also wrote: "Courts show a great deal of deference to the legislative process."

Moon, who is in his sixth year in the Legislature, said in a statement: "In a time when Missourians are clamoring for checks and balances between the different branches of government, it appears that the legislature is being handed an open checkbook whatever the Legislature wants, the courts will 'have their backs.'"

But supporters of the proposal, which is labeled as Proposition D on the Nov. 6 ballot, were pleased with Schollmeyer's decision.

Scott Charton, spokesman for the group SaferMO, said: "SaferMO.com appreciates the court's clear decision dismissing this baseless attempt to keep Missouri voters from having a say on Proposition D. Our statewide coalition is growing and moving full speed."

And Dan Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in a statement: "Businesses across Missouri agree — transportation funding is one of the most important issues facing our state. We need to invest in our infrastructure and use our natural connections to our advantage as we seek to grow our economy."

He said Schollmeyer's ruling keeping the issue on the ballot "will help clear the way as a broad coalition of proponents prepare to appeal to Missouri voters to support Proposition D. We believe the time is right to pass this measure and invest in the future of our state."