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Next steps unclear after Missouri gas tax increase fails

I-64 W traffic highway
Paul Sableman | Flickr
Missouri Department of Transportation officials say they will continue focusing on the state's most pressing transportation needs after a gas tax measure failed Tuesday.

Supporters of a plan that would have boosted Missouri’s gas tax by 10 cents are plotting their next steps after voters rejected the increase Tuesday.

Proposition D failed 54 percent to 46 percent, winning just six counties, all of which are located along Interstate 70. Voters last approved an increase in 1996.

The money would have boosted spending on roads and bridges, and given a dedicated source of funding to the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The Missouri Department of Transportation said in a statement it would continue to do everything it can for the state’s roads with the resources it has. The department was not counting on the additional $400 million a year, so projects currently on the state’s construction list are likely not at risk.

Pat White, president of the St. Louis Labor Council, said he thinks confusing language and a long ballot were partially to blame for Prop D’s defeat.

“When you overload the folks, especially in a midterm election, I just think that if people really don’t read into it, they’re not going to get how important it is or where this is coming from,” White said. “Just from what I saw on let’s just say social media and some of the outlets, folks just didn’t really seem to know what was really behind it.”

White said his members have enough construction work on tap in the St. Louis region that jobs aren’t as big of a concern as they might have been seven or eight years ago. The bigger worry, he said, is safety.

“Our folks are traveling these roads every day in big rigs and fire trucks,” he said.

The results came as a surprise to Dan Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“The numbers looked good,” he said. “Something happened. Either the samples weren’t right to begin with on the polls, or the pollsters did not figure out who was going to come out and vote.”

Gov. Mike Parson, who campaigned hard for the tax increase, alongside Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, said in a statement that he planned to “continue to work with members of the Highway Commission, the General Assembly, and industry stakeholders to explore ways to meet our state’s infrastructure needs moving forward. Missouri’s future economic success is directly related to our ability to anticipate and meet the growing infrastructure demands of our state.”

Mehan said he did not expect Parson to shy away from the issue despite its defeat.

“Every time you talk to the governor, he’s going to tell you his priorities are infrastructure and workforce development, and he’s never wavered on that,” Mehan said. “The case for increasing funding for transportation in Missouri is still there. We’ve just got to figure out a better way.”

State Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, said he believed the state Senate would introduce any new legislation. Moon, who challenged Prop D’s constitutionality, said he could support a gas tax increase after an audit of MoDOT, as long as the tax expired after a certain number of years.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.