Residents to Decide on Tax

Voters will decide Aug. 5 whether they want to approve or reject a three-quarter-cent sales tax increase on themselves to fund transportation projects around the state.

Two local officials are surprised that the election has been set for such an early date and say they would have preferred that the transportation sales tax question go on the November ballot.

Gov. Jay Nixon last week set election dates for the transportation tax and seven other constitutional amendments.

The fact that it will be on the ballot sooner means any committee that advocates the tax will have to speed up its efforts to get the word out, Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy said.

She pointed out that the local area has a vested interest in the tax because it could provide revenue to add lanes to Highway 47 between Washington and St. Clair.

She said she would have preferred that it go on the November ballot to allow additional time for promotion.

Presiding County Commissioner John Griesheimer said he was “shocked” when he saw that the election had been set for August instead of November.

Griesheimer questioned what ulterior motives Gov. Nixon may have in setting the election so early. The groups that will try to sell it to the public will have a very short time to mount any kind of statewide campaign, Griesheimer added.

It will be “extremely difficult” to pass the tax in that amount of time, he said.

Nixon is withholding statements about the proposed transportation sales tax for now, St. Louis Public Radio reported.

Griesheimer and Lucy also noted that the shorter time frame means that a list of projects that would be funded with the tax must be developed more quickly.

In fact, Griesheimer said he heard from a Missouri Department of Transportation official that the county needs to have its proposed project list submitted by the end of the week.

That means local entities will have to “scramble” to get the list developed, Griesheimer added. He said he does not know if the Highway 47 Corridor Committee and the county transportation committee can be pulled together that fast to come up with the list.

He noted that MoDOT wants the list of projects before the election so voters will have an idea of how the tax would be used if it is approved.

Still, some officials who favor the tax have said there will be enough time before the August election to mount an effective campaign.

If approved, the transportation sales tax would be in effect for 10 years, and it would not apply to prescription medicine or the retail sale of food

The Associated Press reported that 90 percent of the money, or an estimated $480 million a year, would go to state transportation projects and the other 10 percent, or $54 million a year, would be allocated to cities and counties.

Locally, officials have said that the tax could provide revenue to widen Highway 47 between Washington and St. Clair to alleviate safety and congestion concerns.

Proponents of the tax say the extra revenue is needed because MoDOT is facing funding shortages.

According to a MoDOT report, the agency had $1.3 billion in road and bridge funding in 2009 and $746 million in 2013. By 2018, it is estimated that MoDOT road and bridge funding will be $325 million unless additional revenue is located.