Getting transportation proposal on ballot a tricky endeavor

Monday, June 3, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- In their rush to pass a transportation package, some state officials failed to check their calendars.

Granted, lawmakers approved the $511 million funding package proposal on the final day of the legislative session. But it appears no one thought about what needed to be done to get it on the ballot -- until it was almost too late.

Secretary of State Matt Blunt was the first to speak up. Just six days before a deadline requiring that election officials be informed of the ballot measure, Blunt said there might be logistical problems.

The proposal needed to be signed by legislative leaders who had adjourned until May 28, the day the ballot measure needed to be received by 116 election offices statewide.

At stake was whether Missourians would get the chance to vote on raising the state fuel tax by 4 cents to 21 cents a gallon and the sales tax by one-half cent to 4.725 cents on the dollar.

The news of the timing problem came as a surprise to many state officials. And only after a frenzied four hours in the Capitol did the measure finally meet the requirements to appear on the Aug. 6 ballot.

'Nobody realized'

Still, questions remain about how the situation became so bad that it required extraordinary government swiftness and efficiency.

Typically, it takes about 30 days to create and certify a proposal's ballot language -- a process that involves the secretary of state's office, state auditor and attorney general.

"Nobody realized that there was a time crunch," said Sen. Bill Kenney, the majority floor leader from Lee's Summit. "It wasn't just one group or one party, it was everyone who didn't pay attention to the timeframe."

That includes bill sponsor Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway. Westfall was informed by a reporter of the potential problem shortly after Blunt's concerns first surfaced.

"I'm stunned," Westfall said. "Nobody had advised us."

Blunt said his office did not begin taking a hard look at the implications of the legislation until the last few days of the session because it appeared the bill would die.

"We generally don't review all legislation to make sure it meets statutory requirements or if we're going to be able to meet our statutory requirements," Blunt said.

House Speaker Jim Kreider and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder said the last-minute panic of the session played a part in the oversight.

Kinder, meanwhile, said officials met the challenge of getting the measure on the ballot despite some tense moments.

"We staggered through the toughest session we've had in my 10 years here. We have had many remarkable accomplishments to point to in the session," said Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau. "We were lucky to make it across the finish line. Perhaps it will be a lesson learned."

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