Before leaving for their week-long spring break, state senators on Thursday passed and sent a proposed one-cent, 10-year sales tax for transportation improvements to the House.
If the House agrees, the proposal would face a statewide vote next year.
"I'm happy that my colleagues looked at it and said, "This is worthwhile to continue to move,'" Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said Thursday afternoon.
A similar proposal also is moving in the House.
Kehoe and Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Crystal City, filed the proposed constitutional amendment last month, as the plan most likely to win voter support from all the various ideas people have discussed in the past few years - including toll roads and increases in the state's 17-cents a gallon fuels tax on gasoline and diesel.
Raising the state's sales tax on all taxable items by a penny, they estimate, would raise nearly $8 billion over the next 10 years and would add about 270,000 jobs to the economy.
The proposed amendment would be effective for only 10 years, and the tax would end then unless Missourians approved it for another decade.
Thursday's yes votes came from 14 Republicans and 10 Democrats. But 10 other Republican senators, including several of the chamber's most financially conservative members, voted against the plan Thursday.
"I think that the bill before us today takes us down the wrong road," Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, told colleagues before Thursday's vote. "I think that this bill proposes constructing a road that will lead to bigger government and $8 billion in higher taxes."
Lamping noted a different bill the Senate passed this week would reduce Missourians' taxes about $4 billion over the next decade, if it becomes state law.
"At a time in our country when federal government, state government and local government spending accounts for 40 percent of our economy - being paid for with taxes and paid for in the future with higher taxes," Lamping said, "I feel quite certain that to ease Missourians' tax burden is what they would have us do."
State Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, added: "I honestly don't believe the (amendment) would pass, even with a massive (advertising) effort.
"I think people are feeling over-taxed, as it is. ... I think it's a foregone conclusion they'll vote no."
But Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, reminded colleagues that during this week's debate on the proposal, "No one denied that we have the seventh largest road system in the country. No one denied that I-70 needs to be rebuilt (and) expanded.
"No one has denied the number of bridges that we have, and that it is more expensive to construct and maintain roads that go over rivers, streams and creeks."
Missouri has about 32,000 miles of roads in the state system, and 10,400 bridges.
Dempsey said improving the state's transportation picture should make Missouri a national "hub" for various forms of transportation.
"I believe that providing a sound, safe, dependable transportation system is a function of government," Dempsey argued, "(and with) the cost of money and inflation, the best time to make this investment is now."
House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, told reporters his chamber will look at the Senate-passed measure.
Still, he said: "The House (Republican) Caucus has been very concerned about raising any taxes the last few years, especially during these challenging economic times - so it is going to have to be some kind of partnership of reducing the tax burden on Missourians, especially on their income."
Kehoe told the News Tribune: "At the end of the day, Missourians will be able to decide on this project. They're going to see the list of projects and they're going to decide whether it's a good investment or not, and that's what I like about the proposal.
"It's not elected officials deciding to raise their taxes.
"It's Missourians deciding if they want to invest in these transportation projects."