Safe Missouri roads-- and maybe a couple bike paths-- will be possible with the 1% sales tax initiative petition.
Last spring was a big disappointment when a few senators filibustered legislation that would put the 1% sales tax for transportation question to the voters. Despite massive cutbacks, layoffs, and closing locations, MoDOT faces serious shortages under the current state fuel tax, which hasn't been raised in decades. (Only an additional 25-cent per gallon fuel tax will raise as much money as the proposed 1% sales tax.) I've been waiting all summer to hear what's next.
There is a way around the filibustering senators. Missourians for Safe Transportation and New Jobs recently filed an initiative petition which will put the question up to voters in November 2014, after approval from the attorney general and the state auditor.
Last week, I attended the meeting of the Missourians for Safe Transportation and New Jobs to hear the latest update. Initial polls are encouraging. Conservative, liberal, and even extremist Missourians believe that transportation infrastructure is a core government service that does need funding. Gaining popular support for any tax is never easy, but in this case it is possible. Opposition could come from people who oppose all taxes and from people who see a sales tax as an unfair burden on the poor, but is unlikely to come from organized and well funded groups.
Support comes from the trucking industry, heavy construction, business, and bike/ped advocates (including MoBikeFed and PedNet). This somewhat unlikely partnership reflects a fundamental change in MoDOT's mission as the Department of Transportation, not the Department of Highways. Like the unsuccessful legislative proposal, the initiative petition specifies funding for transportation instead of restricting state money to roads and bridges, as the existing legislation does.
The group will employ traditional campaign strategies with TV and radio ads, but will also tie specific projects to the proposal. For example, a bridge in poor condition might have a sign saying, "Want a new bridge? Vote yes on the 1% sales tax."
"Will MoDOT honor that implied promise?" I asked.
"That IS a promise, not just an implied promise," MoDOT director Dave Nichols answered. "Any project on the list will be completed if the 1% sales tax passes." He explained that MoDOT has a strong motivation to honor these promises: the 1% sales tax will come up before the voters for renewal in 10 years and broken promises will be remembered.
The next few months should see a flurry of activity as projects vie for a position on the list. Maybe we'll see a new sign at the FLATS trailhead, promising completion of FLATS if the 1% sales tax passes!