Local officials are upset because a transportation tax bill failed to get passed in this year’s legislative session.
The bill would have put a 1-cent sales tax on the ballot, and voters would have decided whether they wanted to tax themselves to improve the state’s ailing roads and bridges.
State Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, said he has heard that business groups may circulate a petition to get the transportation sales tax on the ballot in 2014.
‘Hurts to the Core’
It is “horrible” that the Senate did not approve the bill, said First District County Commissioner Tim Brinker. Missouri residents deserve the right to vote on the issue, Brinker added.
This shows that the Senate does not trust the decision that the voters would make, Brinker said, adding, “That hurts to the core.”
Hinson, who was the sponsor of the House version of the bill, said he thinks it’s wrong to not give voters a chance to decide whether they want to improve roads and bridges.
The Senate originally passed the bill, and then the House passed a version last week to go back to the Senate for approval. But the bill died on the final day of the legislative session last Friday.
Hinson said State Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, wanted to protect the voters against themselves by not letting them vote on the tax.
State Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Lamping, who took part in a filibuster of the bill, viewed the legislation as a tax increase, Hinson said.
Hinson did not see it as a tax increase since it required voter approval. Lamping’s decision to not give voters the right to vote on the issue runs contrary to the Republican Party’s philosophy of letting people decide issues for themselves, Hinson said.
State Rep. Dave Schatz, who is the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said it was “disappointing” that the bill did not pass.
Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy said she is also upset that the Senate did not pass the bill. Lucy said she understands that some legislators are sensitive to tax increases, but this bill put the question in the hands of the voters.
Getting the tax passed next year will be more difficult because it will be an election year, the mayor added.
Fortunately, there is already funding in the budget for the new bridge in Washington, she noted. But had the transportation tax been approved by voters the bridge project could possibly have been accelerated, she said.
Highway 47 in Limbo
Locally, officials were banking on the tax being the main revenue source for proposed improvements to Highway 47. One idea has been to make the corridor four lanes between Washington and St. Clair.
But now that project is in limbo since the sales tax bill failed, Brinker said. If the tax had passed a vote of the public, it would have generated an estimated $7.9 billion over 10 years. After a decade, the tax would have had to go up for reapproval.
The fact that the tax bill did not pass also hurts projects statewide, Brinker said. Drivers will now continue to be at risk driving on insufficient highways, Brinker said.
Brinker speculates that the Senate did not pass the bill because some members thought it would appear as though they were voting for a tax increase. Some members of the Senate may have been worried about how their support of the bill could impact their future election plans, Brinker said.
State Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, who opposed the bill in the House, said he wanted to see if other cuts to the state budget could be made before asking voters to approve a new tax.
But Brinker said cuts to the budget could still be made after the transportation sales tax was approved.
Will Study Be Done?
The Highway 47 Corridor Committee, which is made up of officials from local government entities, was considering conducting a study of the roadway to get ready for expansion.
But Brinker said the committee must scrutinize whether the study should still be done now that the tax has failed. If the study has a life expectancy of 10 years, then it may still be worthwhile because another funding source could possibly be lined up in the coming years, he said.
It would cost an estimated $200,000 to have the first portion of the environmental study conducted. There has been discussion of splitting the cost between Franklin County, and the cities of Washington, St. Clair and Union.
Brinker has previously said that he supports the county committing up to $100,000 for the study.
Missourian Staff Writer Karen Butterfield contributed to this report.