Language of state sales tax increase proposal approved

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A ballot proposal that would trigger an automatic sales tax increase whenever state revenue drops was certified Tuesday for initiative petition circulation by the secretary of state's office.

But backers may not even try to place the issue before voters.

The proposal comes from the Missouri Policy Group, a collection of Capitol lobbyists who also supported a proposed tobacco tax increase narrowly rejected by voters last year.

Under the new proposal, the state's commissioner of administration would decide by each September whether the state's net general revenue, on a per capita basis, has fallen below the revenue level of the 2001 fiscal year, when adjusted for inflation.

If so, the state would be considered in a "fiscal emergency." Sales taxes would then increase by whatever amount, up to 1 percent, the administration commissioner determines is needed to fill the budget gap.

The legislature could rescind or lower the temporary tax increase by a two-thirds vote of each chamber, if lawmakers acted by the following Feb. 1.

Revenue from the automatic tax increase could only be spent on education and health care.

Getting state approval of the proposed ballot language was the first step. The next move is for supporters to collect enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot.

Doug Burnett, one of six board members of the Missouri Policy Group, said the group would gauge public support, including the opinions of elected officials, during the next couple of weeks before deciding whether to proceed.

"We're going to assess the viability of moving forward. This is one big step obviously," Burnett said.

Missouri has experienced two straight years of declining tax revenues, and budget cuts have affected nearly all government programs, including education and health care.

Last year, voters narrowly rejected a ballot proposal that would have quadrupled the state's cigarette tax, raising more than $300 million a year, primarily for health care.

The group has until Feb. 3 to turn in enough signatures to place the measure on the August 2004 ballot.

The group needs signatures of registered voters equal to 8 percent of the votes cast in the last governor's election from six of the state's nine congressional districts. That means between 123,000 and 128,000 signatures are needed, depending on the districts targeted, the secretary of state's office said.

The secretary of state's office certified the initiative after the attorney general's office reviewed it and the state auditor came up with a financial estimate. The auditor said the financial impact of the measure is unknown.

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