Temporary Sales Tax Petition Falters in Missouri

Published February 1, 2004

According to a recent Associated Press report from Jefferson City, Missouri, “supporters of a tough-times tax proposal have abandoned efforts to get it on the August 2004 ballot, citing a lack of both public support and campaign cash.”

The proposal for a temporary state sales tax had been approved for petition circulation, but supporters said in late December “they would not even try to gather the signatures needed to qualify the measure for the ballot.”

“The polling has showed that early on it was better received than it currently is,” said lobbyist Doug Burnett, a member of The Policy Group, a consulting firm formed recently by six state capitol lobbyists. “If the polling numbers aren’t adequate, it would be extremely difficult to raise the funds needed for a campaign.”

Burnett said about “65 percent of the respondents to a public opinion poll conducted last July indicated they were likely to vote for the proposal.” But in a poll conducted in December, that figure fell to “around 50 percent.” Making matters more difficult, Burnett said, was “a very short window” requiring that petition signatures be submitted before February 3 if the measure was to be approved for the August ballot.

The group did not want the measure to appear on “next November’s ballot, where it could have been overshadowed by elections for President, governor, and other top state offices.”

According to the AP report, under the ballot proposal, the “state commissioner of administration would have determined by each September whether the state’s net general revenues, on a per-capita basis, had fallen below the revenue level of the 2001 fiscal year, when adjusted for inflation.” If so, the state would have been deemed to be in a “fiscal emergency” and sales taxes automatically would have risen by up to 1 percent, or by whatever lesser amount was determined by the commissioner to be sufficient to make up the shortfall.

The temporary tax increase could have been stopped only by a two-thirds vote of the legislature. Money raised by the automatic tax increase would have been earmarked for education and health care.

To make the ballot, supporters would have needed valid signatures from registered voters equal to 8 percent of the total votes cast in the 2000 gubernatorial election from six of the state’s nine congressional districts. Depending on the districts targeted, the number of required signatures would have ranged from 123,000 to 128,000.

Lobbyist Burnett said that although The Policy Group is dropping its ballot initiative, it is “not disbanding and may champion other issues in the future.”

John Skorburg is managing editor of Budget & Tax News. His email address is [email protected].