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Urban Lawmakers Demand Slice of the Tax Pie

February 20, 1996
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - An urban-rural clash in Missouri's legislature is endangering the future of Missouri's environment tax which funds parks, storm-water and soil-conservation projects.

At issue is the 1/10th sales tax that will expire in 1998 unless the legislature agrees to extend the tax.

Funds from the tax are used to fund state parks as well as soil and water conservation projects.

Rural legislators have proposed that the tax be extended until the year 2008 without changing the distribution.

But urban lawmakers are demanding a bigger share of the pie in return for their support for continuing the tax.

Rep. Russell Gunn, D-St. Louis City, and Rep. Sheila Lumpe, D-St. Louis County, have co-sponsored a proposal that would give some of the tax money to local parks in urban areas.

"We're not looking to create animosities with rural areas, but we have needs," Gunn said. We have been paying a lot of money into it and not received benefits."

But some critics complain that distributing some of the money to local parks would decrease the amount of money available for rural projects.

Rep. Phil Tate, D-Gallatin, said that he agrees that the debate may turn into a rural/urban clash in the legislature.

On the other hand, he said that the urban legislators' proposals are contrary to what urban citizens want.

Tate is proposing a resolution that would renew the tax as it exists now. Unlike Lumpe and Gunn's proposal, this proposal would not directly include urban areas as a beneficiaries of the tax.

"The opposition (to his proposal) from urban members is contrary to what urban citizens want," Tate said. "The overwhelming opinion of the public is to renew it as it is."

Rep. Bonnie Sue Cooper, R-Kansas City, said that the only way to solve the conflict is to compromise between rural and urban interests by raising the sales taxes to cover urban demands without cutting current funding for rural projects.

"There is opposition from those who say that this is a tax increase," said Cooper. "It is, but it would go on the ballot and allow people to decide."

"This (resolution) is the only one that actually divides revenue fairly statewide, and that's why the pool of money had to be enlarged," she said.

Cooper also said that a major advantage of her proposal is that all areas of the state can choose how the money would be used.

"This is important because needs are different all across the state," she said.

Tate said that his main opposition to this proposal is that it would include an increase in taxes.

"I do not think that the public or the governor will support anything that is a tax increase," he said.

All of the proposals that involve renewing the state parks and soil erosion sales tax will be debated at a public hearing of the House Natural Resources committee at the capitol on Wednesday.