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Missouri Senate Scales Back Transportation Sales Tax Proposal

via Flickr/KOMUnews

The Missouri Senate has passed a proposed constitutional amendment to create a temporary sales tax to fund transportation needs around the state, but not before scaling it back.

The proposal passed by the House earlier this month would have created a  1 percent sales tax over a 10-year period upon voter approval; it would expire automatically unless renewed again by voters.  The Senate adopted a substitute version of House Joint Resolution 68 to create a 0.75 percent transportation tax; it would not include a fuel tax increase, and it would guarantee that the sales tax would not be used to build any toll roads.  The alternate proposal would still allocate 5 percent of taxes collected for county transportation needs, be they roads, bridges, mass transit and another 5 percent for municipal needs.

Fuel tax increases and toll roads were not part of the original version of HJR 68, but state Sen. MikeKehoe, R-Jefferson City, said the substitute version contains language banning toll roads and fuel tax hikes as part of the proposal.  He also said the changes were a concession to avoid an expected filibuster.

"I'm trying to see if we can move something forward that is reasonable," Kehoe said, "that members in this chamber would support, and then our counterparts over in the House would take back up (and) support as well, and we could get it before a vote of the people, which I think is the most important piece of this whole legislation."

Fellow Republican John Lamping of Ladue is the proposal's most vocal opponent.  He and other fiscal conservatives in the Senate chose not to block it after Kehoe's concessions.  But Lamping still condemned the scaled-back proposal on the Senate floor, saying it would still be the single-largest tax increase in Missouri's history.

"If this were to pass, our sales tax burden would go from 7.58 percent to 8.33 percent…it would be the 9th-largest combined state and local sales tax in the country," Lamping said.  "What it would do for St. Louis city, St. Louis County … Jackson County (and other counties, it) would put the overall state and (local) sales tax burden either well above 10 percent, or within shouting distance of 10 percent."

Lamping and other fiscal conservativessuccessfully blocked a similar sales tax proposal last year.

Lamping also touted his own transportation proposal, which was filed back in January but hasn't been moved forward.  His resolution, SJR 43, would require that a portion of sales taxes for auto purchases be diverted to the state road fund.  Lamping also said that if the proposed tax cut bill (SB 509) sent to Gov. Jay Nixon becomes law that it would eventually generate the same amount of revenue for Missouri's transportation needs as the transportation sales tax.

House Joint Resolution 68 passed the Missouri Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 22-10.  It now goes back to the Missouri House.  In its current form it would raise around $534 million a year.

Kehoe and other supporters say the .75 percent sales tax is sorely needed.  In January, MoDOT Director Dave Nichols said that the department's construction budget was expected to drop to $325 million a year by 2017, and that $485 million is needed each year just to maintain Missouri's current transportation system.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

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