Gas tax vote effort gets a restart

By Rudi Keller
Missouri Independent

A rejected petition to put Missouri’s gas tax increase before voters has been refiled and meets the requirements for circulation, said Jeremy Cady, state director of Americans for Prosperity.

Last Friday, Cady received notice that Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office rejected his petition for a referendum because it wasn’t prepared as required by state law. Schmitt’s office, which had up to 10 days to review the new document, approved it in a few hours.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office confirmed that the petition’s form has been approved. It will be sent to State Auditor Nicole Galloway to write a fiscal note.

The refiling could make for a tight schedule to gather the necessary signatures. To make it to the ballot in November 2022, Cady will have to deliver at least 107,246 signatures spread among six of the state’s eight Congressional districts to Ashcroft’s office by Aug. 28. 

Galloway has 20 days to write the fiscal note, and Ashcroft has 23 days to write the ballot title after his office issues its approval of the form. Schmitt’s office gets a final review, which can take up to 10 days after Galloway and Ashcroft are finished.

At that point, signatures can be collected.

Cady said he was confident that there will be time to meet the deadline if the remaining approvals are in hand by mid-June.

“We have a lot of grassroots folks who have worked with us before who are ready to go,” Cady said. “We have a bunch of folks who are itching to get their hands on the petition.”

No decision has been made about how or whether paid signature gatherers will be used, he said.

The mistake on the original petition was that portions that should have been underlined were instead submitted as boldface text.

During the session that ended May 14, lawmakers approved a 12.5 cents per gallon increase in gas and diesel taxes, phased in over five years. If signed by Gov. Mike Parson, the first 2.5 cents per gallon increase would take effect Oct. 1.

When fully implemented on July 1, 2025, the state gas tax would total 29.9 cents a gallon. The new tax is estimated to add $375 million annually to the state road fund and provide $139 million for city and county governments to spend on local roads by fiscal 2027.

Motorists who drive an electric vehicle or one that burns another fuel such as natural gas would see a 20 percent increase in the cost of an alternative fuel decal purchased each time a vehicle’s registration is renewed.

The bill also includes a mechanism for receiving a rebate on the new tax. Motorists who keep receipts can file a claim between July 1 and Sept. 30 of each year for a refund of the additional tax.

The tax increase passed with bipartisan majorities in both legislative chambers. The increase split Republicans, with half of GOP senators and about 40 percent of Republican House members opposed.

Missourians have not approved a tax increase submitted to a statewide vote since April 1987. There has not been a significant tax increase of any kind approved by lawmakers without consulting voters since 1993.

Americans for Prosperity is a Virginia-based not-for-profit founded by billionaires Charles and David Koch that has spent $100 million or more nationally each election since 2012 on campaigns to support conservative candidates and causes.

The last bill sent to voters by referendum was the right-to-work legislation passed by lawmakers in 2017 and turned down by voters in 2018.

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.