Lawsuit filed in November ballot issue after fuel tax added to bill

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JEFFERSON CITY - A November ballot issue is under attack after the house bill attached to it was changed to include a fuel tax.

Citizen activist Ron Calzone and Rep. Mike Moon, R-Lawrence, filed a lawsuit Monday in Cole County Circuit Court about House Bill 1460. Calzone believes the bill was changed “dramatically” just before the end of the legislative session. 

“Through the Missouri Constitution, the people have told the legislature that a bill can include only one subject and they cannot change its original purpose, but with just one full day of the legislative session left, the purpose of House Bill 1460 was dramatically changed in a substantive way,” Calzone said.

In its initial form, the bill authorized a tax deduction for any prize or award won by an Olympic medalist. The bill was later changed to include a referendum that increases the Missouri motor fuel tax.

The issue is scheduled to be on the November 2018 ballot. If passed, proposition D would increase the motor fuel tax by 2.5 cents per gallon every year for the next four years starting on July 1, 2019. By July 1, 2022, the fuel tax will have reached 27 cents per gallon. 

According to the Secretary of State’s office, “This measure will generate at least $288 million annually to the State Road Fund to provide for the funding of Missouri state law enforcement and $123 million annually to local governments for road construction and maintenance.”

Calzone and Moon said the changes violate the Missouri Constitution.

“The Constitution provides clear steps upon which a bill must follow in order to be deemed constitutional. House Bill 1460, in my understanding of the Constitution, stumbles on those clearly marked steps," Moon said.

He said he filed a constitutional objection letter in May when the bill was signed.

Calzone said he won a similar challenge during a 2016 ruling by the same judge assigned to this lawsuit. 

"It's not really so much about the specific provisions of the bill," Calzone said. "The issue is whether or not the people are really in control." 

In the lawsuit, there’s a request for an injunction and, if it’s granted by the judge, the secretary of state would have to refrain from putting the issue on the ballot. 

Calzone argues the bill has multiple subjects and that its purpose changed from when it first started. 

"If you amend the bill and that amendment changes the content of the bill enough that you also have to change the title, then we're suggesting that that makes at least highly suspect that there's been a change in the purpose of the bill," he said.   

Chuck Hatfield, an attorney at Stinson Leonard Street LLP, believes the bill is "perfectly constitutional" and the challenge is "pretty weak." 

"You change the title to more accurately describe what it's doing, but the law is very clear that the fact that you change the title doesn't automatically invalidate the bill," Hatfield said. "If it did, most of the bills that the legislature pass would be illegal."  

Hatfield said the bill does follow the one subject rule as stated in the Missouri constitution.