Gov. Holden keeps low profile on Prop B as election nears

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Bob Holden has made clear his support for the Proposition B transportation tax package. Despite his endorsement of the measure, however, the governor has not taken to the stump to sell the plan to voters.

Holden spokeswoman Chris Kelly said the governor is focused on his highest priority, elementary and secondary education, but "hasn't shied away" from the transportation issue.

"Has he flown all over the state talking about the transportation plan? No," Kelly said. "But he has talked about the importance of improved transportation funding ever since he was running for office."

Kelly said the governor had no plans to take a more active role in the effort to pass the $483 million tax package, which voters will decide on Aug. 6, but remains firm in his support of the proposal.

The measure calls for increasing the state fuel tax by 4 cents to 21 cents a gallon and hiking the state tax by a half cent to 4.725 percent. The Missouri Department of Transportation says the average family of four with two drivers would pay $149 a year in additional taxes under Proposition B.

Holden, a Democrat, took the lead during the 2001 legislative session in pushing a "total transportation plan" that included increased funding for mass transit, rail, aviation and ports, in addition to road and bridge improvements. He feverishly worked the Democratic side of the aisle to secure the votes needed to pass the plan through the House of Representatives, the but measure died in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Holden played a less prominent role in 2002 as the General Assembly crafted a plan to send to voters. When asked, Holden has expressed his support for the transportation funding bill and also offered praise for the effort as the measure cleared the various stages of the legislative process.

Not a major player

But aside from a June 26 speech at a highway users conference in which he touted benefits Proposition B would deliver, warned of the additional problems without new funding and urged listeners to work for the measure's passage, Holden has not been a major player in the debate.

Fred Lindecke, a spokesman for the No on "B" campaign, said the fact that Holden has not been highly visible on the issue is a positive sign for opponents.

"Maybe he's seen polls showing it is way behind and doesn't want to waste time on a lost cause or be a associated with anything that is going to lose," Lindecke said.

Based on opinion page letters in newspapers and discussion on radio call-in shows, Lindecke said it appears public sentiment is strongly against Proposition B. That the measure's supporters have conducted professional opinion polls but have not revealed the results is also an indication proposal is headed for defeat, Lindecke said.

Rodney Gray, director of the pro-Proposition B campaign Time For Missouri, declined to comment on the "suppositions and guesses" of opponents and said he has seen no recent polling data showing the effort is doomed.

As to the governor's involvement, Gray expects Holden to be more vocal in the coming weeks.

"I think we are going to see his involvement increase as we get closer to Election Day," Gray said. "Certainly, when we have something as critical as the transportation system, we want the governor to support it, and he is doing that."

Missouri Chamber of Commerce president Dan Mehan said efforts by Holden to pass Proposition B would be useful.

"He hasn't been too active thus far and, obviously, the more support and publicity out there the better off the effort is," Mehan said. "We look forward to that assistance."

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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