JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon came out in opposition Monday to a proposed three-quarters cent sales tax hike for transportation, casting it as the latest example of a misguided tax policy by state legislators.
Nixon's formal statement against the sales tax proposal came a little over a week after he used his gubernatorial powers to move up the measure's election date from November to August, which gives supporters less time to develop a public relations campaign.
"This tax hike is neither a fair nor fiscally responsible solution to our transportation infrastructure needs, and it does not have my support," Nixon said in a written statement.
The Republican-led Legislature voted in May to refer the transportation tax to this year's ballot in a vote that split the political parties, drawing some Democratic support but also some Republican opposition. Because it is in the form a constitutional amendment that is decided by voters, the measure did not have to go before the Democratic governor for his signature or veto. But Nixon still has authority to determine the election date for ballot items.
Nixon noted that legislators this year also approved a gradual income tax cut — by overriding his veto — that is projected by legislative researchers to eventually reduce state revenues by $620 million annually. Lawmakers also approved a series of specially tailored tax breaks for particular industries, organizations and consumers that Nixon says could reduce state and local revenues by an additional $776 million annually.
Republican legislative leaders have disputed some of Nixon's cost estimates.
The ballot proposal says the sales tax will generate $534 million annually for 10 years while prohibiting increases in the gas tax.
Nixon put the 10-year price of the transportation sales tax at $6.1 billion, assuming a yearly growth in sales tax revenues instead of a steady annual amount. He said the net effect of the Legislature's proposals would be to raise taxes on consumers while cutting them for businesses and wealthy individuals.
The tax burden "would fall disproportionately on Missouri's working families and seniors by increasing the cost of everyday necessities like diapers and over-the-counter medication, while giving the heaviest users of our roads a free pass," Nixon said.
The Missouri Department of Transportation has said it soon won't have money to adequately maintain roads and bridges, much less undertake any major new projects, because of declining revenues. Over the past five years, Missouri's construction budget for roads and bridges has fallen from about $1.3 billion annually to $685 million this year. It is projected to dip to $325 million by the 2017 budget.
That's due partly to a 2004 voter-approved bond measure that financed a surge in spending but is now being paid off. Federal highway funds also have become more uncertain. Fuel taxes have flattened out. And costs have risen for construction materials such as concrete, asphalt and steel.
State Sen. Mike Kehoe, a former state transportation commissioner, said Nixon's opposition to the sales tax proposal "demonstrates that he is clueless about the current state of Missouri's transportation infrastructure."
Missouri has the seventh largest road system in the U.S. while ranking 43rd in funding, Kehoe said. The sales tax would improve that while creating "tens of thousands of good, high-paying jobs" in the construction industry, said Kehoe, R-Jefferson City.
The transportation department said it plans to release a list of projects by June 13 that could be funded if voters pass the sales tax. After a public comment period, the transportation commission plans to vote on a final project list on June 26.