JEFFERSON CITY - State senators stalled on an effort to put a sales tax for transportation projects on the Missouri ballot, but the bill sponsor is still optimistic the measure will be voted on before the legislative session ends in a few days.
The Missouri House passed the Senate-originated measure which would give voters the choice to increase the sales tax by one cent over 10 years to fund improvements to the state's highway system and other transportation projects earlier in the day. The hike would have to be voted on again every 10 years and food items are exempt from the tax.
In the Senate's last vote on the bill, 10 of 24 republicans, including the Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, voted against it --in a chamber where a filibuster by two or more legislators can kill a bill in the last couple days of the legislative session.
On Tuesday night some Republican senators filibustered the issue for four hours.
Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, said he believes if the tax has enough support to pass through the voters, they will put it on the ballot via initiative petition.
"This will be on the ballot if they think it will pass with or without the General Assembly's stamp of approval," Lamping said.
Senate sponsor Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City said despite Tuesday night's outcome, he thinks the issue will come up again before the session ends Friday after he works with those senators concerned about the measure.
"I still believe and many people of this body still believe that there's a point in time where you let citizens decide what they want to do," Kehoe said.
Kehoe said the measure would create nearly $8 billion in revenue and hundreds of thousands of jobs over 10 years.
"Putting people back to work in this body- which we talk about all the time, but we haven't delivered anything that actually does that," Kehoe said.
If passed, Missourians would vote on the tax hike in Nov. 2014. Some opponents say there is no rush to pass the issue this session because there's still next year, but Kehoe said getting it passed now will give more time to create a comprehensive list of the projects the revenue would go toward.
Currently the state counts on transportation funding through fuel taxes. Co-Sponsor Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County, is the son of the former Missouri Transportation Commission Chair Bill McKenna. He said as more fuel-efficient cars are made and people buy less gas, it's created a lack of transportation dollars.
Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, sponsored the measure in the state House and said there are twice as many roads in Missouri as there are in Illinois and Kansas combined, but Missouri receives less transportation funding than both.
The measure had support as well as opposition on both sides of the isle. Democrats said the measure comes down on the poor and elderly too harshly, while some Republicans said just don't want tax increases at all.
"The last thing we need to do is raise taxes," said Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-St. Louis County.
"The state as a whole may prosper, but it should not be on the backs of the poor or elderly," said Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-St. Louis County.
Hinson said he understood Ellinger's concerns, but the tax would greatly benefit the poor and elderly by improving and expanding public transportation.
The measure must survive a vote in the Senate before it can make the Missouri ballot, and legislature has until 6 p.m. Friday to do so.