A proposed constitutional amendment to let voters decide if they want to create a temporary 1-cent transportation sales tax has received first-round approval in the Missouri House.
House Joint Resolution 68 would be in effect for 10 years and would need to be reauthorized by voters to stay in effect beyond that. Five percent of the revenue would be set aside for county needs and another 5 percent for municipal needs. Those needs would include local streets, bridges, highways, and mass transit. It's sponsored by state Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair.
"The people all across the state realize we have a transportation infrastructure need, no matter if you think it's for roads, bridges, or any other type of multimodal transportation," Hinson said. "We're taking this, putting it into the (Missouri) Constitution, protecting the money from lawmakers' hands, where they (could) withhold it or send it somewhere else – it goes directly to the transportation infrastructure."
Before the voice vote, an amendment was offered that would have raised the state's fuel tax from 17 to 20 cents a gallon. It was sponsored by state Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Gladstone.
"The Missouri gas tax has not increased in many years, (and) it hasn't kept pace with inflation, and the amount of money we get to be able to put towards our roads has been insufficient," Carpenter said. "That's why we find ourselves looking at (an) unprecedented sales tax to put toward roads, which this state has never done before."
The amendment to raise the fuel tax, however, failed on a voice vote.
Another amendment that delayed debate last week on HJR 68 was taken back up Tuesday and defeated on a voice vote; it would have removed the word "bicycle" from the resolution. The amendment's sponsor, state Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, initially said that the state should not be constitutionally required to maintain bicycle paths; however, after a backlash from bicycle groups and opposition from lawmakers, Curtman conceded the point on the House floor.
"It was immediately apparent that some members of this body wanted to put the brakes on that amendment," Curtman said in a tongue-in-cheek manner. "I got to speak with several spokes-people from that particular grassroots organization, and I think I can understand why members of this body would want to ride in tandem on that particular issue.... Tthis is not a path they want to take or a hill they want to climb."
State Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, who opposed Curtman's amendment, replied, "I appreciate (Rep. Curtman) being willing to use the hand brakes (and) slow down, maybe perhaps we can all backpedal a little bit from the point of conflict here and work together."
The Missouri Department of Transportation estimates that a 1-cent tax would generate roughly $718 million in revenue in its first year. The state's long-term outlook for transportation funding shows a continued drop in revenue, which led the Highways and Transportation Commission to stop adding new projects to its five-year construction program. In February, commission members also adopted a long-range transportation plan that they admitted the state cannot currently afford.
House Joint Resolution 68 needs one more vote before moving to the Missouri Senate. A similar measure died in the Senate last year, due to opposition from a group of Republicans who said it would take money away from other critical state needs.
Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport