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Nixon endorses transportation tax, defends tax-cut veto

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 18, 2013: Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon offered up his strongest public support yet for some special transportation funding – such as the proposed transportation sales tax – although he emphasized the necessity of a public vote.

“It’s needed,’’ Nixon said, as he responded to questions posed Thursday by members of the Regional Chamber and Growth Association.

“The levels of expenditures that are necessary to make sure that we have a solid transportation system in the future are significant enough such as it’s ultimately going to require a public vote, otherwise it’s…not worth it,” he said.

“We don’t need a band-aid. We don’t need a little bit,” Nixon continued. “We need to think about long-term needs”

Among other things, he said, “The method that we use to fund roads, the gasoline tax, is each day becoming a less effective way to do it.”

Missouri currently imposes a gasoline tax of 17 cents a gallon, among the lowest in the country. Nixon cited cars with improved gasoline mileage, the increased use of electric cars, and the move of some vehicles to natural gas, which isn’t covered by the gas tax.

The current gas tax “just will not sustain the level of transportation (needs) we have,” he said.

The governor didn’t get specific about what sort of funding mechanism should be in place.

The RCGA had campaigned hard for a proposed one-cent sales tax, to be in place for 10 years, that would raise money to rebuild Interstate 70 and various regional road and bridge projects. The proposal passed the state House earlier this year but died in the Senate as a result of a filibuster organized largely by fiscal conservatives, including state Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue.

Nixon, a former state senator, praised the General Assembly for focusing on the issue, saying lawmakers achieved “some solid work.”

“The groundwork was laid….to put something on the ballot that buys in everybody,” the governor said. “It gives everybody a collective sense of where we should go.”

During the next legislative session, which begins in January, “I look forward to working with the legislature on a comprehensive plan’’ to “put in front of the public very quickly.”

What’s important, said Nixon, was for the proposal to have unified support and “give us a long-term solution to a long-term problem.”

Defends veto, emphasizes interest in the Rams

Nixon’s comments came after his 15-minute speech, which focused primarily on his veto of a tax-cut measure, Senate Bill 253, which he has said is too costly and would force dramatic cuts in state services.

The governor said the bill was also “riddled with errors,’’ and cited the provision that eliminated the state’s longstanding sales tax exemption on prescription drugs. That change will cost Missouri taxpayers an additional $200 million a year, he said.

Nixon added that the public shouldn’t buy the promise of tax-cut advocates to fix the bill's problems.

Although three business groups are now running ads advocating an override of Nixon's veto, none of the RCGA questions after his speech dealt with the issue. Rather, the top concerns centered on transportation and the St. Louis Rams football team, which is in sensitive negotiations with city and state officials about proposed improvements to the Edward Jones Dome.

Nixon, who is taking a leading role in the talks, made clear that neither the state nor Missouri taxpayers appear to be in the mood to pay for upgrades. The state, regional and local governments are still paying the bonds used to finance the construction of the dome about 20 years ago.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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