JEFFERSON CITY - Although Missourians haven't passed a sales tax increase in decades, witnesses packed an early morning hearing of the Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday to support one that would increase the state sales tax to fund transportation.
If passed, the bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, would put a proposal for a one cent sales tax increase for the next 10 years before Missouri voters on the 2014 ballot.
Revenue from the increase would fund transportation and infrastructure projects including roads and bridges. Ten percent of revenues would go toward local transportation projects and the remaining 90 toward state transportation.
The sales tax increase would not be placed on food, medicine or fuel.
Kehoe, the committee's chairman and a former car dealer, said the the tax increase would create nearly $8 billion in revenue and 250,000 jobs. He also said the jobs created would stimulate spending, and thus, the economy."The value for Missourians, the value for your dollar right now is incredible value, the opportunity is now," Kehoe said.
Co-sponsor Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County, said a tax increase is essential for a state with the sixth most bridges in that nation and and a transportation department that maintains more roadways than Illinois and Kansas combined. He said a decrease in fuel consumption and more fuel efficient cars is causing a lack of funding in the state.
Opponent Scott Ogilvie, alderman of the 24th ward of St. Louis City, said he wants legislators to create a concrete list of the projects the revenue would go toward. He also spoke at a Missouri House hearing on the same issue Tuesday.
“I talked to somebody and they said ‘well we'll find a way to spend the money,’” Ogilvie said. “And to me that’s not a great answer.”
Ogilvie also said St. Louis already has leveed sales taxes to pay for MetroLink and the MetroBus so adding more to the sales tax without guaranteeing public transportation projects is not feasible.
“We’re really kind of at the ceiling when it comes to sales tax, we’re paying a higher sales tax rate than a lot of the state," Ogilvie said.
He said to sell the proposal to the metropolitan St. Louis area, legislators are going to have to guarantee expenditures on public transportation projects.
During the parade of supporters, the mood turned more serious when Shawn Archambault spoke about his 20-year-old daughter's fatal accident in 2010. He founded One Curve at a Time, an organization dedicated to curbing accidents caused by dangerous roadways such as the one his daughter died driving on. He spoke in support of the bill.
"Some say there is not enough money to fix these roads, but the cost of death will ripple through a community, a family and a state much deeper than roads like FF would ever cost to be fixed," Archambault said.
Michael Rathbone, a political researcher at the Show-Me Institute said the tax is unfair to those who don't use highways as often. The Show-Me Institute is a conservative think tank that condemns taxes.
"It's really taking away from the fact that we're having people who don't use these as much. People that walk to work or bike to work are helping to subsidize with the sales tax people who use these roads and facilities more frequently," Rathbone said.
But Pete Rahn, a former MoDOT director and a transportation leader at an engineering consulting firm in Kansas City, said even those who don't drive benefit from transportation improvements.
"Even if you don't leave your home you benefit from transportation, because somehow the food on your shelves had to get there, when you order through Amazon, the product still has to be delivered to your home,” Rahn said.
Neither the House nor Senate committees took action on either version of the proposal this week.