Missouri ballot defeat reinforces lessons learned in PA

August 7, 2014

MIZZOUNEWWe’re disappointed to see any transportation funding initiative go down to defeat, but reasons behind the 59-41 percent thrashing this week of a Missouri ballot initiative that would have raised the state sales tax by three-quarters of a cent stands in contrast to Pennsylvania’s successful effort with Act 89 last year.

The Missouri proposal would have raised $480 million annually for the state and $54 million annually for local governments for as long as 10 years. The measure guaranteed that the state gasoline tax would not increase during the time the sales tax boost was in effect.

Although drafted to assure that the revenue could not be diverted for non-transportation use, the measure drew heavy criticism for its failure to balance the cost burden proportionately among various highway users. In fact, the group perceived as having greatest responsibility for wear and tear on Missouri highways – out-of-state trucking companies – would have been let off the hook almost entirely as Missouri residents would have borne the burden.

That, coupled with the fact that as a regressive tax, a sales tax disproportionately affects lower-income residents, drove a partisan wedge through the middle of the issue. Most Democrats, including Gov. Jay Nixon, opposed the measure.

Transportation funding advocates earlier had dismissed raising the gasoline tax as politically untenable. But even a campaign that outspent opponents by a ratio of 100 to 1 was not enough to overcome perceptions of inequity and the partisan divide that ensued.

“In Pennsylvania, we discovered several years ago that a majority of residents were willing to invest $2.50 per week for improved safety and congestion relief,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner. “They thought the cost was reasonable, and because those who contributed the most to the wear and tear paid the greater share for its upkeep, they thought it was fair. Our experience in Pennsylvania shows that it is possible to address transportation funding if the solution transcends political and socio-economic boundaries and offers quality-of-life benefits to everyone.”


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