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Proposed Missouri Transportation Tax Heads To Ballot

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Missouri voters will be asked this fall to consider a three-fourth-cent sales tax to pay for highway improvements, but even supporters are pessimistic about its chances.

The Missouri House voted Wednesday to approve the ballot proposal, accepting the state Senate’s language that reduced the proposed sales tax from theinitial one-cent proposal.

But even as the House voted 105-43 to put the measure on the ballot, some on both sides acknowledged that the sales-tax proposal could be a tough sell to voters.  House Speaker Tim Jones said as much earlier this week on St. Louis Public Radio’s Politically Speaking podcast.

Some opposing legislators said it was unfair to ask voters to increase their state sales tax — now generally 4.25 cents on the dollar — at the same time that the General Assembly has voted to reduce the state’s income tax.

Supporters emphasized that the proposed sales-tax hike is targeted toward transportation projects, including improvements to Interstate 70, and cited projected reductions in the Missouri Department of Transportation’s budget, in part because of lower gasoline-tax revenues.

The proposed sales-tax hike would be in place for 10 years and would need to be reauthorized if backers seek an extension.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce lauded the state House’s action to put the proposal before voters.

“Transportation is a vital asset in Missouri. Our central location and access to roads, rail, rivers and air is a key selling point in our work to attract jobs and investment in our state,” said Daniel P. Mehan, the state chamber’s president and chief executive. “We thank the General Assembly for their work on this measure. We also acknowledge this is only the start. The Missouri Chamber and transportation stakeholders statewide will now work to help Missouri voters understand the stark future ahead and how this funding measure can help.”

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.