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Push to pass Amendment 3 provided by transportation industry.

September 27, 2004
By: Ben Welsh
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The push to pass a constitutional amendment that would route money raised by transportation related taxes to road construction has been largely fueled and driven by several of the state's top road builders, as well as labor unions and other public works contractors, campaign finance records show.~

Contributions totalling nearly $1 million dollars have been made to the Committee to Improve Missouri Roads and Bridges this election cycle.

Critics of the ballot measure, which voters will decide on Nov. 2, claim the amendment would benefit contractors more than citizens. Advocates argue it is in the interest of everyone driving on Missouri's rough roads, which finished 48th in a recent federal ranking of state road quality.

"All of Missouri is going to benefit from this either financially or in terms of safety," said Ray McCarty, director of fiscal affairs for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.

"I think it has a wide base of support. It's not just an issue that's supported by contractors," McCarty said, citing a poll his organization conducted in June that found strong support for the amendment and civic groups who support the measure but declined to contribute or whose contributions have yet to be publicly reported.

The proposed measure, dubbed Amendment 3, would phase out the practice of using money raised by the state fuel and auto sales taxes to fund state services and agencies unrelated to transportation.

The main force behind the drive has been The Committee to Improve Missouri Roads and Bridges, which is led by members of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and funded by campaign contributions.

The amendment was placed on the ballot by an initiative petition signed by more 150,000 registered voters during a drive organized by National Voter Outreach, a group funded by the committee.

"We have the grassroots support as well as a lot of business groups," said Kelly Gillespie, a vice president at the Chamber of Commerce. "We've been on the administration and the legislature for a long time and this is a way to take it to the citizens."

The largest donations came from Associated General Contractors of St. Louis, which along with its political action committee donated a total of $370,000.

The Heavy Constructors Association, a local chapter of Associated General Contractors' national body that represents construction companies in and around Kansas City, gave over $300,000. Their executive director, Edward Desoignie, is listed as the committee's deputy treasurer.

He was unavailable for comment.

Three of the state's top road builders also made significant contributions.

During the past five years, Millstone Bangert, Inc., Emery Sapp & Sons, Inc., and Pace Construction Company all ranked among the top ten road builders in the state, according to information released by the Transportation Department. Each made contributions of $7,500 to the committee prior to June 30.

Further information on contributions will not be available until the next round of campaign finance reports are released on Oct. 15.

Critics of the amendment point to the contributions as evidence in their case against the measure.

"Paving the state of Missouri isn't the answer to our transportation problems," said Pat Martin, chair of "No on Amendment 3," a committee representing groups that organized in opposition to the measure. "To us the contributions make it clear who is going benefit from Amendment 3."

The position of Martin and her committe is that the government should find a new source of revenue to overhaul Missouri's roads instead of shifting dollars away from other services.

The extra money routed by the amendment to the Transportation Department's $1.8 billion budget would gradually increase over the next four years from $60 million next year up to $160 million in 2009 where it would then level off, according to Chamber of Commerce estimates.

While supporters admit Amendment 3, which is backed by both candidates for governor, would not raise enough money to end Missouri's road woes, they argue that it would restore credibility with voters and allow the government to return in the future for a new source of revenue.

"Voters tell you they want this," Gillespie said. "This is not going to provide the be-all, end-all answer. It's going to put Missouri on the right road."