Transportation tax defeated in Missouri

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A 7-and-a-half cent sales tax increases that would have been dedicated to funding transportation projects in Missouri was defeated by voters in the Show Me State on Tuesday, The Kansas City Star reports

The tax, which supporters said would have raised $5 billion for transportation projects, was defeated on a 41 percent-59 percent vote.  

Missouri transportation officials had planned to implement the tax increase over the next decade. 

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However, opponents of the measure derided the plan as unfair because it focused on increasing taxes on all purchases in Missouri instead of just drivers who buy gasoline, according to the report.

“It’s difficult to pass a tax increase in Missouri,” Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions spokesman Terry Ganey told the paper. “It’s impossible to pass an unfair tax increase in Missouri.”

Transportation advocates in Washington have pushed for an increase in the federal gas tax, which is currently priced at 18.4 cents per gallon. The gas tax has been the traditional source of funding for transportation projects since the creation of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s, but it has struggled to keep pace with infrastructure expenses as cars have become more fuel efficient. 

Lawmakers were reluctant to increase the amount that is paid by drivers for road construction in the middle of an election year in the transportation funding debate. Congress opted instead to pass a $10.9 billion temporary stopgap that will extend transportation funding until May 2015. 

Transportation groups have touted a high success rate of infrastructure funding referendums in the past to push lawmakers to support the federal gas tax increase. 

"Politicians in Washington shouldn't be afraid to raise the gas tax," former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at a press conference in May. 

"When people know that money is going to go to fix up the roads in their communities, they're not going to throw politicians out of office," LaHood continued. "They're going to pat them on the back for having the courage and vision to replenish the Highway Trust Fund." 

For their part, Missouri transportation officials said they were going back to the drawing board after the defeat of their tax increase on Tuesday night.

“We will continue our focus on safety, maintaining our roads and bridges, and providing outstanding customer service with the resources we have,” Missouri Department of Transportation Director Dave Nichols told the paper in a statement.