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Governor speaks after legislature closes

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon holds a news conference following the end the 97th Legislature at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City on Friday, May 16, 2014. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY • In a decision that surprised the plan’s supporters, Gov. Jay Nixon has moved up the statewide vote on a proposed sales tax increase for transportation.

Whether to raise the sales tax by three-quarters of a cent will now be decided by Missouri voters in the Aug. 5 primary election instead of the Nov. 4 general election.

Department of Transportation officials had intended to use the summer to work with regional planning agencies to develop a list of specific projects that would be funded by the tax money. That list, which will be available for voters to scrutinize, was going to be finalized in September.

Jewell Patek, a consultant for the proponents’ campaign, said Friday that while the governor’s decision was unexpected, the work can be done more quickly.

“The bottom line is, yeah, we were planning a November election because of the timing — getting a project list together and letting voters know what they were voting on,” he said. “But there’s no reason we can’t accomplish that by August. It’s just going to take more work,” said Patek, whose group is called Missourians for Safe Transportation and New Jobs Inc.

The Legislature approved the sales tax proposal last week. It would raise an estimated $534 million a year for local and state transportation projects, including highways, bridges and mass transit.

Legislators have the power to place such constitutional amendments on only the November ballot. The governor has the option of moving them to an earlier special election.

In addition to the sales tax, Nixon also moved to the August ballot amendments that would:

• Guarantee the right to engage in farming and ranching practices.

• Authorize a special Missouri Lottery ticket with proceeds earmarked for the state veterans’ capital improvements fund.

• Guarantee that people are secure from unreasonable electronic searches and seizures.

• Declare that the right to bear arms is unalienable.

Nixon left three other ballot questions for the November election. They deal with prosecutions involving young sex crime victims, the governor’s fiscal management powers and establishment of an early voting period.

One question was whether the sales tax increase, which already faces an uphill battle, would have fared better in November, which normally draws a higher turnout than the August election.

Jeff Aboussie, executive secretary-treasurer of St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council, said he had assumed the measure would be on the November ballot “because of turnout.”

Nixon has not stated a position on the tax and Aboussie said he did not know whether the governor might be trying to influence the tax’s chances of passage by placing it on the August ballot. The proponents have coordinated with MoDOT but not the governor’s office, Aboussie said.

“It’s $6 billion worth of construction, so that’s a big shot in the arm for our workers,” Aboussie said.

Jack Cardetti, spokesman for the pro-tax campaign, said in a statement that supporters were “confident that despite the tight timeframe, MoDOT and communities from across the state will reach out to citizens and develop a project list that fits Missouri’s transportation and economic development needs.”

Said Patek: “Our campaign is ready to go. It’s going to be shorter.”

Virginia Young is the Jefferson City bureau chief for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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