By DAVID A. LIEB
(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo., AP) — Missouri voters defeated a multi-billion-dollar sales tax hike for transportation Tuesday, a significant setback for highway officials who have warned that the state soon won’t have enough money to repair all of its aging roads and bridges.
The three-quarters cent sales tax headlined a Missouri primary ballot that featured few competitive top-of-the-ticket races but several proposed constitutional amendments, including enhanced rights for farmers, gun owners and cellphone users.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment 7 would have funded more than 800 highway and transportation projects, including the widening of Interstate 70 to three lanes in each direction between Kansas City and St. Louis. It was projected to generate at least $540 million annually for 10 years, making it Missouri’s largest-ever tax increase.
The general sales tax also would have marked a historic shift for a state that has relied solely on user fees such as fuel and vehicle taxes to fund its highways for nearly a century. Missouri voters have not passed a tax increase for roads since 1987, though the Legislature approved a gradual fuel tax increase in 1992.
The latest tax proposal was placed on the ballot by the Republican-led Legislature with the support of some Democrats.
Voters had to weigh the need for more road funding — the state’s highway budget is projected to drop to $325 million by 2017 from a recent high of $1.3 billion annually — against the cost of a tax hike that could have pushed the total state and local sales tax to near 10 cents on a dollar in some areas.
Without additional money, the Missouri Department of Transportation has said it soon won’t be able to adequately maintain the state’s roads and bridges, much less undertake major new projects.
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