Six measures on Aug. 6, Nov. 5 ballots

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri voters this election year will determine the fates of three proposed tax increases and three suggested amendments to the state Constitution.

Two of those measures will appear on the Aug. 6 ballot. Proposition A would add a tariff on cellular phone service to improve the 911 emergency system, while Proposition B calls for fuel and sales tax increases for transportation.

Voters will decide the other four proposals on Nov. 5. Those include raising the state excise tax on cigarettes and constitutional amendments to allow home rule for St. Louis city, make a minor change to legislative term limits and establish collective bargaining for firefighters and ambulance personnel.

Proposition A would allow the state to impose a fee of up to 50 cents a month on each cellular phone number. The proceeds would be used to establish wireless 911 service. At present, 911 calls made on cellular phones in some parts of the state, particularly rural areas, aren't necessarily routed to the nearest 911 call center.

The annual revenue expected to be generated by the tax wasn't immediately available.

Proposition A rejected in 1999

Gov. Bob Holden ordered Proposition A on the ballot under a 1998 law that allowed the question to be put before voters up to two times. On the first try in April 1999, 57.5 percent of voters rejected the fee.

Proposition B, a $483 million transportation tax package, has so far been the most widely publicized of this year's statewide ballot measures and the only one to spawn organized groups of supporters and opponents.

The General Assembly placed it on the ballot during this year's legislative session. The measure calls for increasing the state fuel tax by 4 cents to 21 cents per gallon while adding a half-cent to the state sales tax for a total of 4.725 cents per dollar.

The new taxes would cost the average family of four with two drivers $149 a year.

Supporters say the taxes, which would have to be renewed by voters in 10 years, are needed to make long overdue improvements to Missouri's highways and bridges, as well as increase funding for mass transit and other transportation modes.

Opponents deride the sales tax component as regressive, putting the burden on poorer Missourians who can least afford higher taxes. They also say it breaks the state's long tradition of funding transportation solely through user fees, such as fuel taxes.

Two yet to be certified

Of the measures to appear on the November ballot, two are being placed on it through the initiative petition process, while the other two were authorized by the General Assembly.

The two initiatives -- tobacco taxes and collective bargaining --have yet to be officially certified for the ballot. However, Spence Jackson, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office, said both measures appear to have well in excess of the required number of signatures and will likely be certified by July 30.

The tobacco measure asks for a 55-cent-per-pack increase in the tax on cigarettes and a 20 percent increase in the levies on other tobacco products. Missouri's current tax of 17 cents per pack is among the lowest in the nation and hasn't been changed since October 1993, when a 4-cent increase took effect.

The estimated $343 million a year it would generate would largely be earmarked for health care programs, smoking prevention and cessation and medical research.

The second initiative proposal calls for giving firefighters and emergency medical personnel collective bargaining rights under the state Constitution.

John Corbett, president of the Missouri State Council of Firefighters, said the amendment would allow firefighters and other emergency workers to negotiate wages and working conditions, with negotiations subject to binding arbitration if labor and management can't agree.

"With collective bargaining, we would have certain protections that couldn't be taken away," Corbett said.

The amendment would specifically prohibit strikes. Unionization would be determined on a department-by-department basis.

The amendment would cost local departments a combined $252,000 to $3.15 million a year, depending on the number of agencies at which unions were formed.

'No-lose proposal'

The other two proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot relate to home rule for St. Louis city and legislative term limits.

Since St. Louis is the only Missouri city not located in a county, it has many of the attributes of both. While city voters can make changes to St. Louis' municipal functions under the city charter, only the state legislature can change the duties that would be handled by a county.

The proposed amendment would allow city voters more control over the various aspects of the city's governmental operations.

State Sen. Wayne Goode, D-Normandy, said it would give St. Louisans the authority over local matters that most Missourians probably think they already have.

"It is kind of a no-lose proposal for people in the rest of the state," Goode said. "If the city operates more efficiently, that is an advantage for people in the rest of the state."

The term limits measure would provide a limited exemption to the service cap for lawmakers elected to serve partial terms.

Legislative term limits restrict lawmakers to eight years in each chamber of the General Assembly, with partial terms counting as full terms.

The amendment, if adopted, would allow a House member who served less than half of a full two-year term to be eligible for four more full terms. A senator serving less than half of a full four-year term could serve another two complete terms.

Lawmakers elected to partial terms before Dec. 5 could not benefit from the exemption.

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