JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The state’s gas tax increase could be stalled after a group filed a referendum with the Secretary of State’s office in hopes of giving Missouri voters a say.
Missouri hasn’t seen a gas tax increase in 25 years and in the same week, lawmakers approved a 12.5 cent per gallon hike over five years, the petition was filed by Americans for Prosperity (AFP) in Missouri.
“Now is probably not the best time to increase taxes for Missourians,” Jeremey Cady, State Director for AFP, said. “We’re coming out of the pandemic, businesses are trying to reopen, workers are trying to get back to work.”
Cady filed the referendum with the Secretary of State’s office Friday, in hopes of letting Missourians decide the gas tax.
“Roads and bridges are very important and we’re not going to say that they’re not, but we do think there are other opportunities to fund that funding rather than asking for more money from taxpayers,” Cady said.
Last week, the General Assembly approved the 2.5 cents annually over five years, bumping the state’s gas tax from 17 cents to 29.5 cents a gallon by 2025. The first step of the hike would start this October.
“If enough signatures are collected and it goes go on the ballot, then the language is delayed,” Cady said. “I think it’s important to Missourians to make sure they have the opportunity to weigh in on this.”
Missourians voted down two separate increases back in 2014 and 2018, and Cady believes if this goes to the vote of the people again, there will be a similar outcome.
“If Missourians, like they did in 2014 and 2018 say no, we don’t want a higher tax on this, then it would just be voided,” Cady said.
Cady said the annual increase is dodging the Hancock Amendment, which requires voters to approve tax increases over a certain amount.
“We think it’s a little disingenuous side stepping the Hancock Amendment and phasing it in instead,” Cady said.
Jeff Glenn is the Executive Director for Missourians for Transportation Investment, a lead lobbyist for Sen. Dave Schatz’s (R-Sullivan) gas tax increase legislation, Senate Bill 262.
“It doesn’t sidestep the Hancock Amendment, it actually complies with the Hancock Amendment,” Glenn said. “The phased-in nature of the tax increase is so that it does comply with the Hancock Amendment and doesn’t violate the state constitution.”
Glenn said the state has $825 million annual in transportation shortfall since the state only receives about 6 cents worth of purchasing power on the current 17 cent gas tax. Missouri has the second lowest gas tax in the country behind Alaska.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to bridge that gap between the funding that’s available and the projects that need to be done because every year important transportation projects around the state of Missouri don’t get done because we don’t have enough funding,” Glenn said.
When fully implemented, this tax is estimated to bring in $500 million for roads and bridges.
“For any Missourian who doesn’t want to pay that additional tax, who doesn’t want to invest in the state’s roads and bridges, they have the opportunity to be able to claim that refund,” Glenn said.
That rebate is available for any Missourian who keeps each gas receipt for year and apply for the refund with the Department of Revenue.
“Missourians sent their state representatives and state senators to Jefferson City to protect the best interest of Missouri and Senate Bill 262 was passed with strong bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House,” Glenn said.
Currently, the referendum is open for public comment on the Secretary of State’s website. After 15 days, the office will have 23 days to create the ballot summary language.
“Cause the Secretary of State has to write a title and summary language, the auditor has to write a fiscal note and summary language and the attorney general has to review it and approve of it as well,” Cady said.
Cady said if the petition receives 107,000 signatures by August, it will delay the increase until Missourians vote on hike in November 2022.
Schatz’s bill is currently sitting on Gov. Mike Parson‘s desk waiting for approval.