Posted: Aug 2, 2014 12:29 PM by Jessica Mensch, KOMU 8 Reporter
Updated: Aug 4, 2014 1:42 PM
COLUMBIA - Missourians will decide whether they are willing to pay extra at the store to fund transportation improvements, Aug. 5 at the polls. Amendment Seven, a sales tax that would go towards transportation funding, is one of five possible amendments Missourians will vote on at the primary election.
According to the Missouri Department of Transportation, funding from an existing 17-cent-per-gallon fuel tax is not raising the revenue necessary to fund Missouri's transportation system, specifically road improvements and maintenance.
The fuel tax currently funds the majority of these improvements. The tax hasn't been raised in nearly 20 years, but costs of transportation improvements have increased with inflation. Cars are also more fuel-efficient than they were in previous years.
The proposed amendment would institute a .75 percent sales tax. This means for every 10 dollars spent at the store, there would be a cost of 7.5 cents to the consumer. Prescription drugs, gas, and most groceries would all be exempt from the tax.
According to the sample ballot, the tax would mean a projected, "$480 million annually to the state's Transportation and Job Creation Fund."
Since the bill would have a 10-year lifespan, an estimated total of $4.8 billion would go to improving Missouri's highways, roads, bridges, airports, railways, sidewalks and public transit options.
A similar 1-cent sales tax failed to reach voters in 2013 because of a Republican-led filibuster in the Missouri Senate.
Some lawmakers initially said the tax increase should only fund core infrastructure. The bill was stalled because Democrats in the House wanted it to also support alternative transportation. The final version of the bill includes alternative transportation improvements.
Amendment Seven began as HJR 68, which passed in the House on April 9, 2014.
The Senate returned a substitute bill to the House where it was approved on April 29, 2014. The Senate substitute reduced the tax from its original 1 percent to .75 percent.
The bill passed in the Senate the same day.
OPPOSITION TO THE TRANSPORTATION SALES TAX (See supporting arguments.)
Amendment Seven has been a controversial topic among Missouri drivers, as well as many who don't drive. Opponents argue it disproportionately affects the poor, and that exempting gas from being taxed is unfair.
Terry Ganey with Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions, a group of individuals and organizations who have gathered to oppose the sales tax, said the amendment isn't fair to people who don't drive.
According to Ganey, those who don't have a car, or can't afford one, won't be able to reap the benefits of improved roads.
"Seniors, many of whom don't drive, would have to pay more in the sales tax," Ganey said. "While the trucks that use the roads and damage the roads would not have to pay any more in the motor fuel tax."
Many argue the only fair way to fund transportation improvements would be to tax those who use the roads the most, such as truck drivers.
"This amendment means no bucks from big trucks," Ganey said.
He said he supports transportation improvements but thinks the money should come from another outlet.
"The appropriate solution would be a fair solution that taxes the users of the roads rather than seniors and poor people who don't even use the roads," Ganey said. "Drivers have always paid for using the roads in Missouri through a fuel tax. Ours is one of the lowest in the country."
The American Petroleum Institute says Missouri has the sixth lowest gas tax in the country.
Gov. Jay Nixon has also expressed negative views towards the tax.
He said in a news release, "If this effort is successful, Missouri will have the dubious distinction of being a state that, in a matter of months, cut taxes on lawyers and lobbyists, but hiked taxes on bar soap and baseball gloves. I cannot in good conscience endorse a $6.1 billion tax hike on Missouri families and seniors when special interests and the wealthy are being showered with sweetheart deals."
SUPPORT FOR THE TRANSPORTATION SALES TAX (See opposing arguments.)
Supporters have said they agree with the sales tax because it would be a solution to fixing Missouri's roadways, and would support job growth.
Jewell Patek with Missourians for Safe Transportation and New Jobs, a campaign committee formed in support of the sales tax, said that all Missourians would benefit from this tax, because everyone relies on the roads in some way.
"We all use the roads. All consumer items, all groceries, everything comes through our transportation system," Patek said.
The sales tax would also benefit seniors and the poor specifically, Patek said.
Revenue from the fuel tax is currently not allowed to go towards public transportation, but sales tax revenues could.
"The sales tax can provide the resources that many seniors, for instance, and the disabled, rely on. This will provide additional funding for those resources that many of our poor rely on like bus and other things," Patek said.
Truck Driver and Missouri resident Jerry Johnson, also expressed support for the amendment.
According to Johnson, truck drivers already pay extra taxes on top of the fuel tax.
"Raising the fuel tax would just be excessive. It wouldn't do good things to our trucking industry," Johnson said.
MoDOT has released a list of projects to be funded in the central region.