This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Now in his third year in the Missouri Senate, state Sen. John Lamping hasn’t had much of a reputation for filibustering.
But that changed Tuesday when the Ladue Republican took a leading role in filibustering a one-cent sales tax increase for transportation. His opposition played a big role in derailing – at least for the time being – a measure sponsored by State Sen. Mike Kehoe and supported by a wide range of interest groups.
“I have appreciation for how government is organized,” said Lamping in an interview. “Part of the way it’s organized is to allow a minority in the Senate to stop what the majority is trying to do. “
The one-cent sales tax, which would expire after 10 years, would go primarily into a fund for state transportation projects. About 10 percent would go to counties and cities for local transportation efforts. The tax would not be collected on medicine, groceries or gasoline, and the proposal would bar toll roads on existing highways while the tax is in effect.
Voters would have to approve the proposal, which could raise about $8 billion over the 10 years.
Kehoe’s bill passed the Senate earlier this year by a relatively small margin. But since the House made changes, it had to go back to the Senate. Opposition from Lamping and other Republican senators prompted the ballot item to be shelved for the time being.
“There’s a way for the General Assembly to fund transportation,” said Lamping. “The answer I got back was, we don’t want $200 million. We don’t want $400 million. We want $800 million. And, OK, when you’re filing an initiative petition, you can ask for whatever you want to ask for. But I think that’s a lot of money to authorize in one fell swoop.
“If you think about it, $800 million is bigger than a lot of big parts of government that we fund,” he added. “So, part of me hopes that I can convince the majority to look at alternative ways to fund MoDOT.”
For his part, Kehoe said he was surprised that his measure got filibustered. He said, “All of these guys had commitments that they weren’t going to filibuster – and so something changed their minds.
“We don’t know what that is,” Kehoe said. “I’ll continue to try and work with them to figure out what made them change their minds to see if we can get it to go forward.”
Kehoe also noted that “in its purest form of democracy, it is the right of the people to decide how they will be taxed and what that tax will be used for.
“I went all over the state talking about this proposal,” Kehoe said. “I don’t like taxes anymore than the next guy does. But it’s about time that we start saying we have a problem. I haven’t had anybody say that we really don’t have a problem as far as funding transportation. We need to start presenting options to the people to vote on to see how they want to take care of that problem.”
Comeback in the works?
The filibuster was significant because of the finite amount of hours left in the legislative session before the General Assembly adjourns on Friday.
But Kehoe said that he “absolutely” intends to bring up the measure again before legislators leave town.
“It’s a high priority for people in this building,” Kehoe said. “It has a huge range of bipartisan support from various industry groups and consumer groups. All kinds of people who you wouldn’t think would come together to try and push an initiative forward have supported this.”
If the General Assembly doesn’t pass Kehoe’s bill, it could come back as an initiative petition.
“Unlike other ideas for the Senate floor, this is an idea that has two paths,” Lamping said. “One is to have it go through the General Assembly, the other is to do what I completely expect to ultimately happen – just go through the initiative petition process.”
But Kehoe said he would prefer that the legislature take the lead in placing the tax increase on the ballot.
“One of the things that people elected you to do is come down and talk about what’s good for Missouri,” Kehoe said. “This is a constitutional amendment. And that’s a big thing. When you’re talking about working with our constitution, I believe that the citizens of Missouri want the legislature to make those decisions.”