With Nixon’s opposition, road to passage could be bumpy
By TIM ROWDEN
Missouri’s proposed three-quarter-cent sales tax increase for transportation, on the ballot Aug. 5, would create thousands of jobs and address long neglected infrastructure needs, but getting the measure passed could prove to be an uphill climb on a bumpy road.
To begin with, Gov. Jay Nixon has come out against the measure, citing the General Assembly’s fiscally irresponsible tax cuts and giveaways passed in the recently ended session.
But Jeff Aboussie, executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council, says passage of the measure could create 100,000 to 150,000 jobs as a result of highway, road and bridge construction.
“Highway construction spurs commercial development and residential development, and that’s something we need,” Aboussie said.
Aboussie said about 400,000 votes will be needed to pass the measure.
Backers will need money to promote it, he said, and union members need to be encouraged to get out and vote.
If approved by voters, the sales tax is projected to generate about $534 million annually for the next 10 years.
WHERE THE MONEY WOULD GO
The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) plans to release a list of projects by June 13 that could be funded if Missouri voters approve the measure.
Transportation officials say project list will include roads and bridges as well as other modes of transportation.
After releasing the list, transportation officials will hold a weeklong public comment period until June 20. The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission is scheduled to vote on a final project list June 26.
PRICE OF CUTS
Nixon isn’t against transportation spending, but objects to the sales tax funding mechanism and the timing of the measure.
“We can all agree on the need for a robust discussion about Missouri’s long-term transportation infrastructure needs,” Nixon said in a statement. “Along with a highly-skilled workforce, quality schools, and healthy communities, well-maintained roads and bridges are key to our economic competitiveness. However, any proposal to change how we fund transportation must be considered in the context of the overall tax policy of our state and funding for other priorities like education.”
Proposing the sales tax increase after the General Assembly spent much of the last session carving out new loopholes and exemptions for wealthy Missourians and businesses is problematic, Nixon said.
In the past two months, the legislature passed more than a billion dollars in tax breaks for wealthy taxpayers and businesses, including a $776 million package of primarily sales tax giveaways that shift the tax burden away from the wealthy and onto working Missourians and undermine support for education and other public services.
Nixon said the sales tax would result in a hike on working families and seniors while “special interests and the wealthy are being showered with sweetheart deals.”
“What's at stake is the decision on where Missouri is going to move forward with relation to transportation in our future, especially in the next 10 years in Missouri – as compared to what’s happening in other states around the country,” MoDOT director Dave Nichols said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio.
Nichols says his agency is working with regional organizations like East-West Gateway Council of Governments to compile a project list for the commission’s consideration. East-West Gateway’s board of directors includes the elected leaders of St. Louis, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Franklin County and Jefferson County.
About $1.488 billion would flow to those five jurisdictions over the next 10 years if the measure passes.