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Proposed fuel tax increase remains on Missouri ballot

Flickr Creative Commons | Mike Mozart

Updated 6:02 p.m. with plaintiffs’ announced appeal - Missouri residents will have the chance in November to vote on a gas tax increase.

Associatate Circuit Judge Robert Schollmeyer in Osage County on Tuesday tossed out a lawsuit seeking to strip Proposition D from the ballot. If approved by voters, the measure would gradually raise the fuel tax from 17 cents to 27 cents a gallon by the year 2022.

Missouri’s fuel tax is among the lowest in the nation; Prop D supporters say raising the tax would provide more money for roads and bridges.

State Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, and political activist Ron Calzone of Dixon had argued that the House bill containing the referendum violated Article 3 of the state constitution, which covers the powers and authority of the legislature to write laws.

The bill originally contained a tax exemption on Olympic medals won by Missouri residents when passed by the House. Senate members tacked on the fuel tax increase before final passage, along with language to create a fund to eliminate “bottlenecks” along major trucking routes. The House chose not to fight the amendments. The final vote was close, 88-60.

Moon and Calzone contended the bill is unconstitutional because it contains more than one issue, thus violating the single-subject clause. The bill’s original title was: “To ... enact ... one new section relating to a tax deduction for certain Olympic athletes.”

Schollmeyer disagreed in his ruling, saying the bill’s amended title – “To ... enact ... three new sections relating to state revenues, with a referendum clause” – meets constitutional requirements.

Calzone and Moon issued a joint statement late Tuesday, saying they’re filing an appeal with the Western District Court of Appeals in Kansas City.

“In a time when Missourians are clamoring for checks and balances between the different branches of government, it appears that the legislature is being handed an open checkbook,” Moon said. “Whatever the legislature wants, the courts will have their backs.”

“It’s always disappointing to lose in court,” Calzone said, “but it’s particularly disappointing when the judge doesn’t bother to address your most powerful argument, one supported by almost a century of Missouri Supreme Court opinions on similar lawsuits.”

SaferMO.com, an advocacy group that’s backing Prop D, joined the lawsuit as an intervening party.

“SaferMO.com appreciates the court’s clear decision dismissing this baseless attempt to keep Missouri voters from having [their] say,” spokesman Scott Charton said. “Our statewide coalition is growing and moving full speed.”

The group’s attorney, Chuck Hatfield, argued that lawmakers gave the bill a wide enough title to satisfy the constitution: “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.”

In 2016, a bill that would’ve raised Missouri’s fuel tax to 23 cents a gallon passed the State Senate died in the House due to opposition by the Republican majority to raising any taxes.

Missouri voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment in 2014 that would’ve created a .75 percent sales tax over a 10-year period to generate more funding for transportation projects.

Follow Marshall on Twitter:@MarshallGReport

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