Tax votes disappoint conservative constituents

Friday, April 5, 2013

Missouri Senate votes in favor of sending to voters a 1-cent increase in state sales tax to grow funding for transportation are coming under fire from local conservatives.

The Senate in March approved a proposal that if approved by voters would then come up for reauthorization every 10 years. The estimated benefit for the state's transportation system is $8 billion for each 10-year period. Ten percent of the revenue would be delegated to local transportation, and the state's gas tax rate would freeze while the sales tax was in effect.

On March 19, Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, in a column that ran in the Southeast Missourian, did not explicitly endorse the measure, but he did state his belief the state's only remaining option for paying for the underfunded transportation system is a sales tax increase, since citizens don't support tolls and people don't want to pay more fuel tax.

Wallingford was among the 24 senators to vote on March 14 to pass the measure that would send a question to the ballot.

Jan Farrar, a member of the Cape County Tea Party, said she was disappointed to learn the senator voted for the measure. She pointed to Wallingford's effort last June to contact the group and request a photo shoot with a pledge he signed that stated he would oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes. Wallingford was a state representative running for his seat in the 27th Senate District at the time.

"Every time there's a tax increase, it's taking away some more of our freedoms," Farrar said.

Wallingford did not sign the pledge, which is a project of the group Americans for Tax Reform, back in 2010 when he was running for his House seat. At the time, Wallingford said he did not sign because such a pledge "would hamstring my ability to be an effective legislator. Taxes on a list of 100 things I can do is at the bottom."

Americans for Tax Reform states its "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" is "actually made to a candidate's constituents, who are entitled to know where candidates stand before sending them to the capitol.

Since the pledge is a prerequisite for many voters, it is considered binding as long as an individual holds the office for which he or she signed the pledge," the group writes on its website.

Wallingford holds that his vote was not actually for raising taxes -- and granted, the tax would go before voters.

"I don't buy the line that I just voted to raise taxes," Wallingford said. "I voted on the people being able to voice their concerns. I think issues like that should go to the people, and I don't think I would be doing my job as a senator if I said I think this is an important area but then don't tell the people how important it is."

Farrar disagrees.

"It's another tax increase, supported by the state of Missouri and supported by Wayne," she said.

"I think there's a lot of misperception," Wallingford said. "I signed the pledge saying I won't personally raise their taxes. And that vote doesn't raise anybody's taxes. What that vote does is allow the people to decide given the information on the condition of our highway system and what needs to be done. If they think it's an important enough issue to not be ignored anymore, they are raising their own taxes, not me."

Legislators including representatives Shelley Keeney, R-Marble Hill, Mo., Steve Hodges, D-East Prairie, Mo., also signed the pledge in the past, according to a list of state lawmakers last updated in February by Americans for Tax Reform. Missouri's Speaker of the House, Tim Jones, and 23 other representatives also are on the group's list.

The House has yet to address the measure in session. A version has been endorsed by the chamber's transportation committee, but Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, who is sponsoring the joint resolution, said he expects the House to take up the Senate bill.

Keeney did not return a call seeking comment Thursday after a message was left at her cellphone number.

Hodges said he originally signed the pledge in 2006 and has been sent renewal forms since but has not signed and returned them. He also said he has not yet formed an opinion on how he may vote for the transportation proposal once it hits the House floor.

According to the website Ballotpedia.com, Jason Smith, R-Salem, who will be opposed by Hodges in an upcoming 8th Congressional District special election, signed a No New Taxes Pledge in 2011.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

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