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Tax Hike Falters

January 25, 2001
By: Nick White
State Capital Bureau
Links: SB 286

JEFFERSON CITY - An effort to boost taxes for highway construction in Missouri is being declared one of the road kills from Wednesday's special election.

The Democratic sponsor of a $650 million highway tax-increase package conceded his bill likely is dead -- an assessment echoed by the incoming GOP chairman of the committee that now controls the bill.

The bill would raise the state sales tax by one cent per dollar and the gasoline tax by two cents per gallon for increased highway construction.

"The bill's on the shelf," declared the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia.

The GOP co-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee where Mathewson's bill now sits was even more direct.

"I feel the message is very clear that the people in outstate Missouri are not ready for a tax increase," said Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway.

Westfall will chair the committee once the election results giving Republicans control of the Senate are certified.

"There's no sense in wasting the time, in my judgment, in sending...a proposal for a tax increase to the people who we know are going to reject it," Westfall said.

No argument from Mathewson who said he does not expect the Democratic-sponsored bill to pass the Senate after Wednesday's special elections that gave Republicans control of the state Senate, 18-16, for the first time in 52 years.

Mathewson said he talked Wednesday morning with Westfall and that the two came to an understanding that the bill will probably be "put in the drawer."

Westfall said, however, that Mathewson's bill is a good transitory step toward getting what the Missouri Transportation Department said is necessary funding.

"I'm open for dialogue on it, he was open for dialogue on it," Westfall said. "It's a vehicle to address the problem."

Meanwhile, Gov. Bob Holden, continues to take a neutral position -- calling on legislators to reach a consensus over divisions such as the urban-rural division of any new highway construction funds.

At a Thursday news conference, Holden reaffirmed his position that he would not endorse a tax increase or toll roads without such an agreement -- a position nearly identical to that of his predecessor, the late Gov. Mel Carnahan.

But Holden left open the possibility for a tax hike when he presents his State of the State address to lawmakers Tuesday.

"We're in the process of putting all of that together and I have not made a final decision on just exactly what I will say in terms of a tax increase on Tuesday."

However, Holden repeated his insistence that advocates for increased highway funding develop a comprehensive transportation plan.

"I think before we get to the point of talking about a tax increase, we've got to talk about what this state needs to have in the way of a transportation plan and what should be part of that plan -- what resources you have to address those needs," Holden said. "Then you come to the conclusions that we need a tax increase or not a tax increase."

Bipartisan efforts to find a coalition among legislators are under way.

Rep. David Levin, R-St. Louis County, has brought together a caucus, the St. Louis-Kansas City Regional Transportation Caucus, to discuss highway funding.

"Our caucus is, number one, supportive of what's best for the whole state," Levin said.

In his inauguration speech, Holden called on the two urban areas to get together on state issues.

"The governor was prophetic," Levin said. "He has had us realize we're in one state."