JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A penny sales tax that would be dedicated to state and local transportation projects cleared the Missouri House on Tuesday but ran into opposition in the Senate.
The proposed sales tax, which officials estimate could generate nearly $8 billion over a decade, would require voter approval to take effect and would be resubmitted to the ballot every 10 years. Proceeds would fund state highways, local roads and other modes of transportation such as railroads, airports, mass transit and river ports.
The House approved a proposed constitutional amendment containing the tax increase by a 100-57 vote. That sent the measure back to the Senate, where lawmakers had approved a similar transportation sales tax earlier this year. But some Republican senators stalled a final vote Tuesday night that was needed to refer the measure to the 2014 ballot.
Republicans hold a majority in both chambers. But the party was splintered philosophically over whether to ask voters to raise taxes.
"This is not what I understood the Republican Party to stand for," said Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, who helped lead the effort to block the transportation tax.
The House vote also split along party lines. Republican Majority Leader John Diehl and Democratic Minority Leader Jake Hummel supported it, while Republican House Speaker Tim Jones voted "no," as did numerous Democrats.
Rep. Dave Hinson, who sponsored the measure, said Missouri's large transportation system needs more funding. Others said a funding boost could support thousands of jobs and argued that rejecting the sales tax could lead to other efforts to boost funding for transportation.
"Let's get Missouri moving in a forward direction with our roads," said Hinson, R-St. Clair.
Opponents cited resistance to raising taxes and concern about how the sales tax would affect the poor and seniors.
"We are asking our senior citizens on fixed incomes, the lowest income people, to fund this big project," said Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-University City. "I respectfully can't do that. I ask us to look for some alternate funding mechanisms in the future."
Republican Rep. Rick Brattin said many voters who gave the GOP its veto-proof House majority last year believe they are taxed enough and that government should operate with its existing resources.
"It blows my mind that our party is even bringing this kind of stuff up," said Brattin, of Harrisonville.
Attention on transportation funding comes after years of concern.
As early as 2006, then-Transportation Department Director Pete Rahn said the annual highway construction budget would decline significantly by 2010 as bond payments for past projects came due. The decline was delayed because of federal economic stimulus money approved in 2009. But in the last year, Missouri's highway construction funding has fallen from $1.2 billion to less than $700 million.
Missouri's highway system has depended on fuel taxes. Supporters of creating the sales tax contend change is needed because people are driving more fuel efficient vehicles and buying less gas when prices rise.
Under the sales tax measure, the state transportation commission would develop a list of projects to be funded before the tax appeared on the ballot. If passed by voters, the commission would produce an annual status report for the Legislature and the governor. Tax proceeds would be divided, with cities and counties each getting 5 percent for local transportation needs. The remainder of the funds would go to state projects.
The sales tax would not be levied on food or medicine, and when it is in effect, voter approval would be needed to change the gas tax rate or place tolls on existing roads and bridges.
Based on the annual report filed in the fifth year after voters approved the tax, the Legislature's Joint Committee on Transportation could recommend suspending appropriations from the state transportation sales tax fund for projects that were approved but not yet included in the statewide improvement program. The suspension would require a two-thirds vote in the joint committee and passage of a resolution by the House and Senate. It would be lifted when the transportation commission adds back the project.
Transportation sales tax is SJR16