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Judge weighs whether to strip fuel tax increase from Missouri’s November ballot

Flickr Creative Commons | Mike Mozart

A lawsuit heard Tuesday in Jefferson City would remove a referendum from the November ballot to gradually raise Missouri’s fuel tax by 10 cents a gallon.

The proposal was added onto a bill passed this year that created a tax deduction on Olympic medals for athletes living in the state. The bill was also amended to include the creation of a fund that would be used to eliminate “bottlenecks” along major trucking routes. It’s due to be listed on the ballot as Proposition D.

The suit was filed and argued in Cole County, but was heard by Osage County Circuit Judge Robert Schollmeyer due to a heavy court docket in Jefferson City. A ruling on the fuel tax referendum could come as early as Friday, but likely won’t happen until next week.

Attorney and co-plaintiff Ron Calzone argued that the measure in its current form violates the State Constitution’s single-subject clause.

“They added ... things that aren’t related to the original subject of the bill, which was specifically targeted at giving a tax deduction to certain Olympic athletes,” he said. “There is a whole multitude of Supreme Court opinions that say when a bill title when filed – and the bill title descends into particulars and specifics – the rest of the bill has got to adhere to the particulars and specifics in that original bill title.”

The bill’s original title was: “To ... enact in lieu thereof one new section relating to a tax deduction for certain Olympic athletes.” When it received final passage by the House and Senate it read: “To ... enact in lieu thereof three new sections relating to state revenues, with a referendum clause.”

Attorney Chuck Hatfield represents a group called SaferMo.com, which is advocating for Proposition D, and has joined the lawsuit as an intervening party. He believes the new title is broad enough to pass constitutional muster.

“We think it gets there,” he said. “The courts give the General Assembly a lot of latitude – they’re not going to interfere in what the legislature wants to do unless it’s a really big deal.”

Missouri’s fuel tax, at 17 cents a gallon, is among the lowest in the nation. If the referendum remains on the ballot and is passed by voters, the tax would increase next year to 19.5 cents per gallon, and to 27 cents per gallon by July of 2022.

Follow Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.