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Transportation Tax May Have Been Doomed By Being Placed On August Ballot

UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Gov. Jay Nixon may be the primary reason a proposed transportation sales tax failed this week at the polls, according to one political expert.

George Connor, political science professor at Missouri State University in Springfield, says the governor's decision to place the 0.75 percent sales tax on the August primary ballot likely doomed it to failure because most of the state's primary races drew in GOP voters.

"There might have been Democratic voters in St. Louis and Kansas City who said 'this is a regressive tax and not what I believe in, and I'm going vote against it,'" Connor said.  "but it was really the overwhelming number of Republicans voting in the primary that made the difference. So, yes, if Gov. Nixon was opposed to the tax, well, he certainly killed it by placing it on the August primary (ballot)."

Connor says Republicans who vote in primaries are more conservative than those who only vote in November and thus more likely to vote against a tax increase.

"So not only do you have an excess of Republican voters during the primary, you have a predominantly conservative Republican primary voter," Connor said.  "They are the least likely to vote for any tax increase, and I think that included the transportation (sales) tax."

State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, who sponsored the proposal in the Missouri Senate, agrees.  Kehoe says scheduling the transportation tax vote for August was a "major reason" it was voted down.

"Once the governor decided he was going to be against (Amendment 7)," Kehoe said, "they (started) looking at what amendments they could put on the August ballot that would actually bring people out that could be against the transportation proposal, and I definitely think that was a major factor in why the proposition failed."

Amendment 7 was defeated by a  roughly 59 to 41 percent margin and lost in all but about a dozen counties in Missouri.  Transportation leaders do not yet have any alternate proposals for improving or maintaining Missouri's transportation system.  Kehoe, a former Highways and Transportation Commission member, says he's not aware yet of any new proposals for next year's legislative session.

"We will have to have further conversations to find out what Missourians will consider (to be) acceptable to fund transportation," Kehoe said.  "A system the size of Missouri's cannot be fixed by the legislature because of our Hancock amendment in our (state) Constitution...citizens will have to approve whatever the ultimate way is that we are going fund that."

In response, Nixon's Press Secretary Scott Holste said, "There were several issues on the August ballot, and there will be several on the November ballot as well. The governor wanted to have a measure of balance to both ballots so that voters could, and can, better examine and understand the issues before them."

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

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

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