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As Nixon reiterates opposition to vehicle-tax bill override, Silvey offers alternative

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 5, 2012 - Gov. Jay Nixon reiterated his opposition to vehicle-tax legislation, which is likely to come up at next week’s veto session. He argues that an override could impose a tax on thousands of people who purchased a vehicle from other individuals.

The legislation in question overturns a Missouri Supreme Court decision that tossed out local taxes on vehicles purchased out of state unless the local jurisdictions had voted for such a tax. The Democratic governor vetoed that bill earlier this year, and Nixon warned lawmakers last week that an override would result in 122,702 buyers having “to pay an additional and unexpected local tax.”

Nixon was more specific on Tuesday, noting in a press release that 108,000 Missourians purchased those vehicles “from friends, neighbors or other private individuals.” Around 14,000 vehicles were purchased from out-of-state dealers, according to the release.

Nixon spokesman Scott Holste told the Beacon in a telephone interview that the number includes purchases between Missourians, especially if someone bought a vehicle from somebody within a city or county that had not voted for a local use tax.

The governor has argued that people within counties or municipalities should hold a public vote on whether to establish the local taxes. Nixon’s press release noted that the cities of Laurie and Tarkio and Howard County voted against use taxes in August, perhaps to showcase that the bill would go against the wishes of people who don’t want to pay the tax.

“Missourians deserve the opportunity to vote on these issues, and the General Assembly shouldn’t take that right away,” Nixon said in a statement.

Silvey strikes back

In a public letter released around the time Nixon was holding a press conference on the issue at his Missouri Capitol office, state Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Clay County, sent around a public letter offering up a new legislative path.

Silvey wrote that the legislature could pass a bill next year sparing people who bought vehicles between the time of the court decision and the time of the override. Silvey, who handled the bill in the House, is running for a state Senate seat in November. He wrote that the Senate handler, Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, would offer such legislation if he doesn’t win.

"By making this promise, I hereby call on you, Governor, to stop using scare tactics and for once make a decision that helps businesses and cities across this state," Silvey wrote.

Proponents of the bill argue that local municipalities and counties stand to lose millions of dollars’ worth of revenue if the bill doesn't pass. They also say that the Supreme Court's decision created an uneven playing field for Missouri vehicle dealers, especially in places close to a bordering state.

Silvey said in a telephone interview that he will bring the bill up for an override attempt next week. That, he said, would give enough time to pass legislation exempting people who are caught in the middle.

“There’s no reason why the governor needs to send tax due statements the day after we override the veto,” Silvey said. “He’s got the entire fiscal year to do so, and he has the flexibility within his administration to decide when those go out. It’s posturing trying to scare legislators into thinking that if they vote to override his veto, their constituents are going to get a bill in the mail the next day from the governor, saying ‘I tried to stop this.'"

Travis Ford, a spokesman this week for the Department of Revenue, said in an e-mail to the Beacon that the department is “not aware of how a fiscal year would be relevant to taxes becoming due and payable under law.”

“We would need further clarification to understand that position,” he said.

As the Beacon reported earlier late last week, at least one legislator who voted for the bill – Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph – says he will vote against overriding the governor. And while the bill passed with some Democratic votes, it’s not unusual for lawmakers from the governor’s party to switch sides during an override.

Kinder, Spence differ on override

And Schaaf isn't the only GOP official who agrees with Nixon.

While appearing on Mike Ferguson's Columbia-based radio show Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said that legislative leaders should hold off overriding Nixon's veto.

"I do not support making it retroactive; I differ with my friends there," Kinder said. "And I also do not support an override of the governor’s veto that would effectively impose a big tax on these people who made these lawful purchases. Is it something that we can address in the future? Yes. But I don’t think expending a lot of effort to override a governor’s veto, which happens only very rarely, is the way to proceed here."

Kinder's view contrasts with GOP gubernatorial nominee Dave Spence, who told the Kansas City Star last week that lawmakers should override Nixon's veto. The paper reported that Spence said that Nixon was "more worried about polls and his donors than auto dealers and the counties.”

While Schaaf said the bill has an almost nonexistent chance of being overridden, Silvey was more optimistic. He said legislators will likely be influenced by local officials fearful of lost revenue, as well as vehicle dealers losing sales to out-of-state entities.

“I don’t see scores and scores of people flipping their vote,” said Silvey, noting the bill passed by large margins in both legislative chambers. “There’s a very real public policy aspect here that supersedes the politics the governor’s trying to play.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.