The Missouri House Democrats’ leader says they’re angry about the veto override on a tax cut bill, so much so that they won’t vote for a proposed sales tax hike to support transportation if the Republican House Majority doesn’t bring Medicaid expansion up for a vote.
The situation raises doubt about the fate of the three-quarters-of-a-cent transportation tax that had seemed likely to pass.
The House on Tuesday completed a legislative override of Governor Jay Nixon’s (D) veto of the tax cut legislation, SB 509, that he and House Democrats said was unnecessary and “dangerous,” and puts funding for state programs and services like education in jeopardy. All 108 Republicans in the House voted for the override along with one Democrat, Keith English (Florissant).
“I think right now the caucus feels that it’s awfully hypocritical to be asking for a tax increase when we’ve just cut taxes,” says Minority Floor Leader Jake Hummel (D-St. Louis).
34 House Democrats voted for the transportation tax, HJR 68, when it cleared the House, while 38 Republicans voted against it.
“They have to have our votes to pass it,” says Hummel. “If they’d like to give us a vote on Medicaid maybe we can talk about that.”
Hummel says it is time for Medicaid expansion to be brought to a vote on the House Floor. Last year a bill was debated in the House but withdrawn without a vote.
“If the majority [Republicans want] to vote it down that’s fine, but give us the opportunity,” says Hummel. “This is such a huge coalition across the state. Just give us … give everybody … a chance. Give them a vote. What are [Republicans] worried about? That they don’t have enough people to vote it down?”
House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) says he had not heard of the Democrats drawing the connection between the transportation sales tax and Medicaid prior to speaking to Missourinet.
“I don’t really see the connectivity between the two,” says Jones, “My gut reaction would be the caucus would not be much interested in a deal of that sort.”
If Republican leadership decides to put Medicaid expansion to a vote, there are some bills that could be potential vehicles for it. Two Senate bills, SB 504 and SB 754, are on the list of Senate Bills ready to be passed out of the House that relate to health care or insurance coverage. Those could potentially have Medicaid language amended to them before a vote.
Another bill, SB 524, was amended in a House Committee to include Medicaid expansion language in an effort led by Representative Chris Molendorp (R-Belton), who has been supportive of expansion. His position has put him at odds with most of his fellow Republicans. Molendorp called the vote, “symbolic,” but the bill could be brought to the floor in the final week.
“It’s that time of year when there are a lot of issues that aren’t related at all that kind of get thrown into the same pot for people to start picking and choosing … they’ll support this if you’ll support that,” says Senator Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City), the sponsor of the transportation sales tax bill in the Senate. “It doesn’t surprise me that there are people trying to tie one thing to another.”
Kehoe says he will spend time this weekend talking to legislators about moving the transportation tax forward. It also has labor support, including from the Laborers Union of Missouri and the United Transportation Union, who testified for it during a House hearing in February.
Hummel says he knows there is union support for the tax, and a need for funding for infrastructure improvements.
“I don’t think a lot of us are happy at what the funding mechanism is for this,” says Hummel. “I’d love to get some kind of compromise between the tax and Medicaid, but just have to see how it goes.”
The proposal was to raise the sales tax one percent for transportation when it left the House but the Senate changed it to the three-quarters-of-a-cent plan. If it is passed by the legislature it would go to voters in November or at a special election to be called by the governor.