State Sen. Mike Kehoe accused Gov. Jay Nixon of failing to lead and failing to understand the needs of Missourians and their transportation system.
Nixon on Monday issued a statement saying he can't endorse the proposed three-quarter-cent transportation sales tax, because Missouri's Republican-led Legislature is "engaged in a relentless effort to erode Missouri's tax base by carving out new loopholes and exemptions for wealthy individuals and businesses" at the expense of "Missouri families and seniors."
Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, told the News Tribune Monday: "The governor flies around in a brand new, taxpayer-funded airplane - so he has no idea how the bridges and roads are.
"And people understand that the governor is out-of-touch with Missouri and Missourians' need."
Kehoe served several years on the state Highways and Transportation Commission, including a year as chairman, before resigning five years ago to run for the Senate seat he won in 2010.
How to pay for road, bridge and other transportation improvements has been a major topic that whole time.
For the last two years, Kehoe sponsored a proposed constitutional amendment to raise the state's general sales tax by a penny, for a 10-year period, to pay for some of the needed improvements.
When lawmakers this year finally approved the idea, it had been reduced from one cent to three-quarters of a cent.
"You have bipartisan groups of House and Senate members passing legislation that's been well-vetted, that's been talked about - in transportation's particular case - for three or four years," Kehoe said. "And now, all of a sudden - after all that work's been done, after all the hearings have been had, after all of the public meetings have been had, after all the stakeholders have been brought together - now the governor weighs in.
"It's typical of a guy who does not know how to lead."
The governor's statement said Missouri needs "a robust discussion about Missouri's long-term transportation infrastructure needs," but that the Legislature's tax-cutting actions "have shifted the tax burden away from the wealthy and onto working Missourians, while undermining support for education and other vital public services that create opportunity for Missouri families."
Kehoe said he and Nixon have "a fundamental difference" about those policies.
"The governor believes that taxpayers' money is his money. I believe that taxpayers' money is your money - the taxpayers," Kehoe, a former business owner, explained.
He said lawmakers had "an appropriate, and responsible, opportunity to give Missourians some of their money back, to spend on things they think are important" when they overrode Nixon's veto this year on an income tax-cuts bill that won't take effect earlier than Jan. 1, 2017, and requires at least $150 million in revenue growth before its phased-in cuts are triggered.
On the other hand, Missouri voters have the ultimate say on adding the transportation sales tax to the Constitution, Kehoe said.
"This proposal is clearly, "Here's a list of things you can invest in, that you can see, touch and feel, and it will happen over this 10-year period," Kehoe said, "and you can, Missourians, make the decision whether this is the appropriate way to fund transportation."
He thinks Nixon ignores the transportation sales tax's benefits.
"That particular proposal also creates over 200,000 jobs, and has somewhere around a $30 billion ripple effect into the state's economy," Kehoe said. "So, the very people that the governor wants to put to work, he is today, deciding he doesn't want them to go to work.
"I want them to go to work."
If voters approve the tax during the Aug. 5 election, it's expected to raise $534 million each year, between 2015 and 2024.
Ten percent of the money raised would be given equally to cities and counties, to meet their local needs.
By the end of this month, the Highways and Transportation Commission is to release a statewide list of projects to be paid for with the other 90 percent of the tax revenues.