Ballot features primaries plus taxes

Tuesday, August 6, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri's weather has been hotter than the primary campaigns for its statewide offices this summer. The political heat has come mainly from a proposed tax increase for transportation.

As voters head to the polls today, they will be deciding on the state's largest ever tax increase -- around $500 million annually for transportation through higher sales and fuel taxes.

They also will be deciding the party nominees for the U.S. Senate and House. Democratic incumbent Jean Carnahan and Republican Jim Talent are expected to prevail in the two main Senate primaries, as are Missouri's incumbent U.S. House members.

In fact, the Talent and Carnahan camps already have been campaigning as if each were their parties' nominee. The state Republican and Democratic parties also have been focused on Talent and Carnahan.

The only other statewide race is for state auditor, but Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill faces no opposition and the Republican Party has publicly sided with Jay Kanzler in his primary contest against Al Hanson.

Numerous party primaries

The state Legislature features more than 100 party primaries -- evidence of a large slate of candidates attracted by the onset of term limits, which is prohibiting many incumbents from seeking re-election.

In one southwest Missouri House race, seven Republicans are competing in the primary; another seven Democrats are vying for a southeast Missouri House seat.

Some state Senate primaries feature two sitting lawmakers.

For example, Sen. Pat Dougherty is being challenged by term-limited Rep. O.L. Shelton in a Democratic primary for a St. Louis seat.

The winner will face no Republican opposition in the general election.

The transportation proposal, known as Proposition B, would raise the state sales tax one-half cent to 4.725 cents on a dollar and the fuel tax 4 cents to a total of 21 cents a gallon.

The state auditor's office estimates the taxes would raise $483 million annually. An estimate by legislative researchers put the revenue at $511 million annually.

Funds for the roads

Most of the money would go to state and local roads. But other modes of transportation also would be guaranteed a share and a small portion would be reserved for ethanol and biodiesel fuel incentives.

More than a week before the election, supporters of Proposition B already had raised about $3.5 million for their advertising campaign, which has focused on the potential safety and economic benefits of a better transportation system.

Opponents, in a low-budget campaign, have criticized the sales tax as placing a disproportionate burden on the poor and questioned the ability of the transportation commission to follow through with its road plans.

Missouri last raised taxes for transportation in 1992, when the Legislature approved a phased-in, 6-cents motor fuel tax.

On the ballot Tuesday as Proposition A is a proposed fee of up to 50 cents monthly on wireless telephones.

The revenue -- estimated at more than $15 million annually -- would go toward enhanced 911 emergency systems.

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