A court has dismissed a lawsuit claiming a ballot measure that would increase the state’s motor fuel tax violates the Missouri Constitution.
The Tuesday court decision means the 10-cent motor fuel tax will be on the November ballot as it now stands, although an appeal of the ruling will likely be attempted.
Judge Robert Schollmeyer in Cole County Circuit Court in Jefferson City determined legislation passed by lawmakers on the last day of this year’s session does not violate three sections of Missouri law as argued by plaintiffs.
A bill originally drawn up to establish a state tax exemption on prizes won in Olympic competition was amended to include two additional provisions – one calling for a public vote on the motor fuel tax, and another to create an emergency road fund in which the legislature can deposit state funds.
Judge Schollmeyer dismissed the suit brought by conservative activist Ron Calzone and Republican state Representative Mike Moon of Ash Grove, noting that all three provisions have to do with state revenue.
The decision backs up the action of Missouri Secretary of state Jay Ashcroft, the defendant in the case who certified the ballot measure to go before voters.
It also benefits an intervener in the litigation, SaferMO, which represents stakeholders such as contractors who would work on road projects the motor fuel tax would finance.
In rejecting the plaintiff’s contentions, Judge Schollmeyer said the legislation does not violate the state “original purpose” requirement because all three of its provisions revise Missouri’s revenue laws. He also found that the bill does not violate the “single subject” rule because it relates to state revenues. And he further determined it conforms to the state’s “clear title” requirement because it applies to one limited area of government activity, state revenues.
Judge Schollmeyer also rejected a fourth claim by the plaintiffs that the bill was improperly allowed to evolve during the legislative process and not required to remain true to the original title. He said there’s no case or constitutional requirement that prohibits changes to a bill’s title as long as it satisfies the original purpose, single-subject, and clear-title conditions.
The bill as passed and certified by Secretary Ashcroft will ask voters to cast a ballot on three separate provisions, all at once on the same ballot measure.
They’ll be asked if they want to increase the motor fuel tax, exempt Olympic (as well as Special Olympic, Paralympic) prizes from state taxes, and establish the Emergency State Freight Bottleneck Fund.
The Bottleneck Fund would create a dedicated fund for certain road projects in order to reduce traffic bottlenecks that affect freight.
A single yes vote would be a vote in favor of all three provisions in the bill. Together they are known as Proposition D.
SaferMO and other organizations supporting the ballot measure such as the Missouri Chamber of Commerce will be solely focused on the motor fuel tax portion. It would increase the fuel tax on gasoline and diesel by 2.5 cents each year for the next four years, hiking it from 17-cents-per-gallon to 27-cents-per-gallon by 2023.
The revenue will go toward public safety as well as road and bridge construction. It would provide roughly $288 million annually in the State Road Fund for transportation needs as well as $123 million annually for local transportation projects.
Scott Charton, a spokesperson for SaferMO, points out the current proposal is different than a 2014 ballot measure for roads that was rejected by voters. “That was a general sales tax increase,” said Charton. “This is a motor fuel tax. This goes with making the motors operate that makes the vehicles go on the roads. It is for users to pay.”
Charton also says the motor fuel tax would speed up the process of repairing dangerous roadways. “There are thousands of poorly rated bridges in Missouri, Charton said. “This is a safety threat. We need to fix this. We need to accelerate our projects in Missouri.”
The motor fuel tax is the only portion of the ballot measure that must receive the OK of voters. A portion of Missouri law known as the Hancock Amendment requires legislation that raises at least $111 million in taxpayer money to be placed on the ballot.
The plaintiffs in the case, activist Calzone, and State Representative Moon, indicated they would appeal a decision against their case beforehand. The relatively quick decision by Judge Schollmeyer will likely allow for a petition to a higher court. Any litigation must be resolved six weeks before the November 6th election to impact the ballot measure.