Negotiators begin work to smooth out roads measure

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- House and Senate negotiators began talks Tuesday night aimed at forging a compromise on the chambers' starkly different versions of a transportation tax package to send to voters.

The original Senate plan, sponsored by state Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, would raise $500 million a year through a three-eights-cent sales tax hike and 6-cent per gallon fuel tax increase.

The House version would rely more heavily on new sales taxes -- three-quarters of one cent -- and less on new fuel taxes -- 3 cents per gallon. It would raise $640 million a year for transportation.

Westfall said there is resistance to the higher sales tax in the Senate, where many members prefer the tradition of funding roads through user fees. "I've already got my neck stuck out a mile on this," Westfall said. State Rep. Don Koller, D-Summersville, said a package in the $600 million range is needed to make any substantial progress toward repairing and upgrading roads and bridges in Missouri. Koller, the bill's handler in the House, said a sales tax is the only way to quickly raise an amount of money needed.

"I agree it is a new method, but I also feel like it is time for a new method," Koller said.

The negotiators, five from each chamber, simply laid out the House and Senate positions and offered no compromises. They were to continue work this morning in hopes of sending an acceptable measure back to their respective chambers for final passage by the time the General Assembly adjourns for the year at 6 p.m. Friday.

If it clears the legislature, the plan would go on the statewide ballot. The Senate version calls for an August vote; the House plan a November decision.

Another key difference is that Westfall wants the new taxes to expire after 10 years unless voters reauthorize them. Koller supports voter review after 20 years.

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