Proposed Sales Tax Hike Gets New Life

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JEFFERSON CITY - A Missouri transporation group took the first step Monday toward getting a state sales tax increase to pay for road improvements on a general election ballot.

Members of Missourians for Safe Transportation and New Jobs filed an initiative petition with secretary of state Jason Kander's office Monday afternoon. The proposal, if approved by a majority of the state's voters, would call for the state to levy a temporary one percent sales tax to raise money for new road projects over a 10 year period.

The proposal would raise billions of dollars worth of revenue needed to rebuild Interstate 70, among other priorities.

The initiative petition has to go through a lengthy process to receive final approval. The attorney general must approve of the legal language and the state auditor has to handle the fiscal note. Petitioners must then take their cause around the state and receive the required signatures to get the proposal on the ballot.

In a statement Monday, the transportation group said the plan has a wide array of bi-partisan backing and will create a more modern and reliable transportation system.

"Missouri sits at the crossroads of this country, and the future of our economy is dependent on making these critical transportation improvements," the group wrote.

A similar proposal failed in the final days of the 2013 legislative session, as lawmakers did not pass a bill to place a tax increase on the 2014 general election ballot. A few Republican senators including Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, defeated the plan.

Lamping led the final filibuster and told KOMU 8 News during the Sept. 11 veto session elected officials should solve the transporation funding crisis instead of asking the public to raise taxes.

"I'm convinced we can fund our transportation needs within the budget that we have today," Lamping said.

Lamping serves on the Senate's transportation committee and said the state could begin using discretionary spending for the first time to pay for road improvements.

Fuel taxes are the primary source of funding for Missouri's transportation system, but the 17 cents per gallon fuel tax rate has not changed since 1996. In past years, fuel tax revenues have declined as consumers have driven fewer miles and have begun to drive more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Although fuel prices have risen in past years, fuel tax rates remain flat meaning Missourians are paying a lesser percentage of their overall pump price toward fuel taxes.

Like the 2013 legislative session proposal, the ballot initiative would appropriate five percent of the new funds into a fund specifically for counties and five percent into a fund set aside for cities. The other 90 percent of the funding would go into a general road fund and would be managed by the state transporation commission.

MoDOT would be asked to put together a list of projects before voters go to the polls.

The group said it will tour the state in the coming months as part of a campaign to drum up support and to get signatures.