JEFFERSON CITY • Disappointed Missouri transportation officials were at a loss this morning to explain the bruising election defeat of a sales tax increase that they had portrayed as crucial to maintaining road safety.
Asked what went wrong, Steve Miller, chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, told reporters: "I don't know that anything goes wrong. Our job is to educate the public and let them make an informed decision. I'm proud of the effort that was done to educate Missourians. I don't view it as a failure. We just have to find other ways to fund transportation."
But that effort will take time, and it could be years before voters see another ballot proposal.
Neither Miller nor Dave Nichols, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, would say whether the state should consider alternatives, such as raising the fuel tax or instituting toll roads. At a news conference this morning, they said a robust discussion will be needed on how to address the state's transportation needs.
With just under a million voters going to the polls, the sales tax was rejected by a nearly 59 percent majority. The proposal, which would have increased the state rate by three-quarters of a penny per dollar spent, passed in only a smattering of rural counties. It lost big in most metro areas — for example, populous St. Louis County turned it down by close to a 2-to-1 ratio, as did the city of St. Louis.
The tax would have generated an estimated $5.4 billion over 10 years to pay for hundreds of road, bridge and other transit projects, including a down payment on bonds to widen Interstate 70 from Independence to Wentzville.
Given declining gas tax receipts, MoDOT says that without the cash infusion, the state could soon have trouble covering road maintenance needs. By 2020, matching federal funding could be difficult, Nichols said.
Proponents waged a $4 million campaign for the tax, but a coalition of opponents prevailed by arguing that the plan would make the overall sales tax too high, let truckers off scot-free and dedicate too little to mass transit.
Nichols declined to address claims that big trucks would not have paid their way under the defeated proposal, known as Amendment 7. He and Miller also refrained from blaming Gov. Jay Nixon, who surprised supporters by coming out against the sales tax in June. Nixon called it a regressive tax that would fall heaviest on working families.
Said Miller: "Obviously, we're the morning after. One proposal has not been accepted, so I think there'll be lots of discussion. What's clear, what has not changed today is, we have a problem with transportation. We have unmet needs that directly affect safety on our roads and economic opportunity. Those aren't going to change."
Passed — 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent
In a narrow victory that could lead to a recount, voters approved an amendment to guarantee that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices "shall not be infringed." The measure was strongly supported in rural counties, many of which approved it by a three-to-one margin. Majorities in all of the state's larger counties opposed the amendment, with the City of St. Louis leading the way with a 73.5 percent "no" vote, according to unofficial returns. Hover over a county on the map for details.
Constitutional Amendment 5: Establish right to bear arms
Passed — 61 percent to 39 percent
The rural/urban divide was even more stark when it came to an amendment that would make the right to bear arms unalienable. The City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, Boone County and Kansas City (which is included with Jackson County on the map) were the only places where most voters opposed the amendment.
Constitutional Amendment 7: Transportation sales tax
Failed— 59 percent to 41 percent
A proposed sales tax to raise billions for transportation projects across the state, however, was soundly defeated. Only 19 of 115 counties supported the initiative. Voters in all of the states's more populous counties shot down the measure, some overwhelmingly so. In St. Louis County, 67 percent of 190,000 people who showed up to the polls opposed the tax.