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House leaders mate education and highway proposals

January 22, 2002
By: Matt Williams
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri voters would be faced with nearly $1 billion in tax and fee increases for highways and school buildings under a proposal unveiled Tuesday by House leaders.

The initiative, sponsored by the House speaker and the chairman of the Transportation Committee, both Democrats, would raise general sales taxes by 1.25 cents on the dollar and fuel taxes by four cents per gallon, and implement several other fee increases. The bill is projected to generate more than $800 million.

Schools would receive about $160 million - less than a quarter of the tax increase - with the balance directed to highway construction and the state Highway Patrol.

Money for schools would be made available for school districts to fund building projects based on need. House Speaker Jim Krieder, D-Nixa, said this would help relieve pressure on school districts to raise property taxes.

If approved by the legislature, the plan would then allow voters to decide on the education and highway proposals as one package, rather than separately.

House Minority Leader Catherine Hanaway, R-St. Louis County, said she was concerned by the marriage of education and highways.

"I'm concerned that we're using education as a political issue to move a tax increase for transportation," Hanaway said.

Krieder emphasized that the main objective is to provide for infrastructure, and that the two issues belong together.

"It's about putting concrete down for highways," Krieder said. "It's about putting concrete up for school buildings. I think they are related, in what they do for Missouri and its economic benefit."

Krieder's proposal isn't the first this year to provide school districts with more money. House Republicans, led by Hanaway, made it a priority to provide schools with an extra $165 million to be used as they see fit.

"What we want to do is let school districts decide how best they can spend the money," Hanaway said.

The new proposal would not affect the state's funding of the Foundation Formula, the mechanism that distributes state money to schools. House leaders from both parties have pledged to fully fund the formula this year despite a tight state budget.

The transportation elements in Tuesday's proposal are similar to a $535 million plan approved by the House last year that was later defeated by Senate Republicans. The idea of tax increases have since warmed to Transportation Committee Chairman Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, who proposed his own $436 million increase this session.

Westfall said he was concerned with the size of Tuesday's proposal, but Rep. Don Koller, D-Summersville, said there was "room to compromise" with the Senate.

Gov. Bob Holden said he would leave transportation discussions to the legislature this term, after having made the issue his top priority last year. Holden then argued that one-third of the state's bridges and 5,000 miles of roads were in need of repair.