The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 14, 2013

House advances bill for vote on sales tax for road work

By Eli Yokley

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — State lawmakers this week have advanced a call for voters to approve a one-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects.

The bill, which passed the House on Tuesday morning, came as lawmakers moved forward on the dozens of bills remaining on their calendars in the final week of the General Assembly session.

Sen. Mike Kehoe’s measure would impose the tax to fund new road and infrastructure projects across the state. The legislation appeared dead in the House for more than a month, but was brought up on Tuesday and passed with support of 100 members.

If approved, a commission would spend a decade approving projects to be completed.

The Senate is also expected to review legislation sponsored by Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles, that would make changes to the crippled Second Injury Fund for workers’ compensation. For years, the fund has been insolvent, to the extent that a $24 million backlog has built up, forcing Attorney General Chris Koster to no longer make payments to victims of occupational disease.

Rupp’s bill calls on businesses to contribute more to the fund to help balance it. State Rep. Bill Lant, R-Neosho, said if lawmakers don’t move on the issue, he fears the courts will.

Lant said he is OK with smaller businesses being called on to contribute to the fund, in part pointing to the diseases contracted from a small popcorn plant in Jasper, Mo., a company that was bought out by a larger company before employees began filing suit for assistance.

“Nobody knows where the next toxic industry comes from,” he said.

The legislation is now in the Senate. Rupp said he sat down with Koster, as well as members of the business community, before presenting the bill to lawmakers earlier this year. The bill passed the Senate earlier this year, but passed the House with new amendments.

Last week, the body moved forward on its nearly $25 billion operating budget for fiscal year 2014. The bill included $14 million in funding for Joplin tornado recovery projects. On Monday, legislation to statutorily establish the fund passed the House and was placed on Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk.

As the week has passed, it has become more clear which priorities are still alive. As the controversy regarding the Department of Revenue’s procedures of scanning documents when Missourians apply for licenses has grown, the governor’s push for Medicaid expansion has clearly lessened. Speaker Tim Jones’ proposal to issue bonds to fund state building projects is not going to emerge in the Senate. And legislation backed by Senate leadership that would allow investor-owned utility companies to seek permission from the Public Service Commission to place an infrastructure system replacement surcharge on consumers is likely stalled in the body.

There is a hope for tax credit reform, Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said on Monday. The two chambers are split in tax credit caps for low-income seniors and historic buildings, but may be close to an agreement on instituting the New Market tax credit as well as ones to encourage data centers to locate in the state.

Dempsey said his body is ready to move on “secondary” priorities of its members. On Monday night, for example, the body spent more than three hours debating a prevailing wage bill, despite the fact that the body already passed one earlier in the year.

Clock ticking

The clock is ticking down as lawmakers approach the session’s end. The final day of the General Assembly is Friday. The body is required to shut down at 6 p.m.