Yael T. Abouhalkah

Jay Nixon rips Missouri’s huge transportation sales tax increase

If Gov. Jay Nixon gets his way, Missourians this August will not support a tax increase to improve Interstate 70, including this stretch in east Kansas City near Blue Ridge Cutoff.
If Gov. Jay Nixon gets his way, Missourians this August will not support a tax increase to improve Interstate 70, including this stretch in east Kansas City near Blue Ridge Cutoff. The Kansas City Star

Will Missouri voters in August approve a huge, regressive sales tax increase that even Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon does not support?

We will find out in nine weeks, now that Nixon on Monday came out both barrels blazing against the three-quarter cent transportation tax hike championed by a lot of highway contractors.

Nixon’s opposition is huge. If the guy sitting in the most powerful elected post in the state can’t even get behind higher taxes, that gives opponents even more reasons to invest in a campaign against them.

The governor didn’t have to look long and hard for reasons to dislike the tax.

The General Assembly gave him plenty of ammunition when it passed and sent to him a large tax-cut bill that favors the wealthy. After Nixon vetoed the bill, lawmakers overrode the veto.

That led Nixon to say this in his announcement on Monday:

“Recently, members of the General Assembly have been engaged in a relentless effort to erode Missouri’s tax base by carving out new loopholes and exemptions for wealthy individuals and businesses. In the past two months alone, the legislature has passed over a billion dollars in tax breaks that disproportionately benefit the most affluent taxpayers and businesses. These misguided policies, including the $776 million package of primarily sales tax giveaways rushed through on the last day of session, have shifted the tax burden away from the wealthy and onto working Missourians, while undermining support for education and other vital public services that create opportunity for Missouri families.”

But Nixon didn’t stop there, again for good reason.

In Kansas and other states — now including Missouri — Republicans have been trying to reduce the taxes paid by wealthier residents and corporations, all while imposing sales taxes on residents. Those taxes take a higher portion of income from families that don’t make a lot of money.

For all the talk that Gov. Sam Brownback does about how much he has reduced the income taxes of Kansans, in his first term he also supported a plan to renege on a deal that would have allowed a temporary sales tax increase to go away.

Brownback and the GOP-dominated Legislature decided to keep part of the sales tax in place, to help deal with the tremendous revenue deficit for the state that the income tax cuts were expected to create.

In other words, help the wealthy, punish the less well off.

Here’s Nixon again:

“I cannot in good conscience endorse a $6.1 billion tax hike on Missouri families and seniors when special interests and the wealthy are being showered with sweetheart deals. This tax hike is neither a fair nor fiscally responsible solution to our transportation infrastructure needs and it does not have my support.”

If voters agree with Nixon and defeat the tax, a solution to how to invest in better roads in Missouri won’t come around at the earliest until the 2015 session.

Of course, good ideas already exist.

Increase the state’s gasoline tax, one of the lowest in the nation.

Put tolls on portions of major roads, especially Interstate 70, just as Kansas now does on a part of that highway.

Nixon’s opposition to the transportation sales tax is well-stated and likely to have a lot of influence with voters who might have been on the fence about this large increase.

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com.

Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah.