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Holden transportation plan hits Republican opposition

March 06, 2001
By: Nick White
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Republican lawmakers said Tuesday they do not support the proposed tax increase contained in Missouri Gov. Bob Holden's long-awaited transportation funding program.

The plan would ask Missouri voters to approve an across-the-board increase in the sales tax, a proposal that led top Republicans to voice doubt the measure would pass this legislative session.

"It's a significant tax increase," said Rep. Catherine Hanaway, the House minority floor leader. "It's a lot of money ... It's a lot to ask."

The plan would generate $620 million annually for roads, bridges and other transportation needs by raising the state sales tax by five-eighths of one cent per dollar and the gasoline tax by three cents per gallon. Vehicle registration fees would also be increased.

The governor proposes making the plan subject to statewide voter approval to become law.

"Make sure everybody hears that," Holden told reporters.

The state Transportation Department has said for several years Missouri ranks fifth-to-last in transportation funding and is in desperate need of more money. Holden said Missouri needs to repair 5,000 miles of road and one-third of its bridges.

"Our transportation system has been neglected for too long," said Holden, explaining what he called the "One Missouri Transportation Plan." "The longer we wait, the worse the situation becomes."

But missing from Holden's plan was support from Republicans who control the state Senate and the Senate's Transportation Committee. The committee's chairman -- Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway -- said Holden's plan will not likely get to the voters this year.

"I'm reluctant to say we need to pass it by this year," Westfall said. "We'll try and have something on the ballot for August next year ... That's a worthy goal."

Holden said he wants to see a public vote this year to take advantage of a non-election year and the large number of lawmakers who, by term limits, will not have to face re-election.

"If we don't do it in 2001, we'll have to wait until 2009 or 2010," Holden said.

But the lack of Republican support led one key Democrat to suggest Holden's plan was in trouble.

The Democratic Speaker of the House, Rep. Jim Kreider, from Nixa, said Holden's plan would ultimately need Republican support before it could pass the legislature. It could likely pass the House without Republicans, but it would need bipartisan support in the Senate.

"They're not going to sign on to a bill that asks the people for more revenue," Kreider said, adding that no House Republicans have signed onto Holden's plan.

In addition to Westfall's resistance, the Republican President Pro Tem, Sen. Peter Kinder, said his initial response to the plan was "cool."

"We do not have a formal position on it," Kinder said. "Some members are very opposed to it."

Holden's plan also drew rural opposition from the Missouri Farm Bureau, which said it will not support a tax increase until the transportation department becomes more accountable.

"It is useless and counterproductive to talk about increasing the taxes paid by Missourians without first taking the necessary and bold steps to restore the public's lost confidence in the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission," said Charles Kruse, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau.

The plan would put the Transportation Department under a secretary appointed by the governor. Currently, the head of the department is selected by a constitutionally independent commission.