JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Bob Holden threw his hat into the transportation ring Tuesday, embracing a $475 million tax increase for roads and public transit sponsored by the Senate's Republican Transportation Committee chairman.
Holden said Republican Sen. Morris Westfall's plan to increase gasoline and sales taxes to pay for highway construction was a good starting point.
"I find a lot in that bill that I can be very supportive of," Holden said. "It's not perfect, but it's heading in the right direction."
Westfall's plan would raise sales taxes three-eighths of a percentage point to 4.6 cents on the dollar and would increase the gasoline tax 6 cents to 23 cents per gallon.
The increases would require statewide voter to take effect.
Holden has been reluctant to talk about transportation since his own plan to increase taxes to pay for roads was defeated last year in the Senate. This year, it is the Senate that was the first to move for a tax increase.
Westfall's plan is slightly smaller than last year's proposal, but Holden and other Democrats said there was room for compromise.
To Rep. Don Koller, D-Summersville, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Holden's support tells him that the proposal is likely to pass. Holden wouldn't risk supporting a bill likely to fail after last year's defeat, Koller said.
"This gives me a good indication that we've got something going," he said.
Koller, who is sponsoring his own $650 million plan, said there is support in both chambers to send the issue to voters.
"No one wants a tax increase, but I think they're willing to say we're elected officials and bite the bullet," Koller said.
Westfall, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he was unsure whether his colleagues would support a tax increase any larger than his current plan.
"The governor's saying its almost perfect. For me, it's almost too big," Westfall said. "If they stick too much more on it, I'm in trouble."
Holden urged the Senate not to block the proposal and instead allow voters to make the decision.
"I'm asking the Senate leadership to give the people of the state of Missouri an opportunity to express themselves this year," he said.
Meanwhile, Koller all but abandoned a proposal to include money for school buildings in the transportation referendum. He said the proposal, a longtime priority of Speaker Jim Kreider, drew sharp criticism from constituents who didn't want to pay for other school districts' buildings.
Koller said adding school money to the proposal would hurt its chances.
"I think that would be a detriment to the bill," he said.