(The Center Square) – Missouri state Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, filed a bill on Wednesday to repeal a gasoline tax increase passed by the legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Mike Parson in July.
“I was talking to a lobbyist during the session and they told me if this went on the ballot, it would be unlikely to pass,” Walsh said in an interview with The Center Square. “If they’re saying the people would be opposed to it but I should vote for it, that’s something I’m going to oppose because I ran to represent the people.”
Several legislators argued the bill violated Missouri’s Hancock amendment. The 1996 legislation prevents the general assembly from raising taxes above a certain threshold without voter approval. The ability for taxpayers to get the new gasoline tax refunded, if they save receipts and file a claim, met the constitutional requirement.
Walsh, who is running for the seat of U.S. Rep. Vicky Harzler, a Republican representing Missouri’s Fourth District and running for the seat of retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, said she’s received negative feedback regarding her party’s action to tax gasoline.
“During the summer as I’ve gone out through my district and the Fourth Congressional District, people are asking me what is wrong with the Republicans,” Walsh said. “We have super majorities in Jefferson City, so why are you guys passing this?”
In October, the state tax on a gallon of gasoline increased by 2.5 cents under SB262. The tax will increase 2.5 cents per gallon in each fiscal year until it reaches 29 cents per gallon on July 1, 2025, a 73% increase from the previous rate of 17 cents per gallon, the second lowest in the nation. The law also allows people to get the new tax refunded if they save receipts and file a claim for a refund.
Walsh was critical of the refund when it was debated.
“It sounded complicated and cumbersome,” Walsh said. “Missourians are not going to collect little receipts and track pieces of paper. It’s one more burden for a mom with kids at a gas station trying to fill up and get a few things. Now, she has to collect the receipt and the pumps are out of paper half the time. It’s extra hassle and I anticipated this back then.”
The tax was approved in the House by a 104-52 vote after a contentious, late-night debate three days before the end of the legislative session. It was sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan. State Rep. Becky Ruth, R-Festus and chair of the House Transportation Committee, guided it through the House.
As Ruth toured the state with Parson in July to conduct ceremonial signings of the bill, state Sen. Bill Eigel, R-St. Charles, pledged Ruth would be held accountable for the tax.
“All of these disastrous policy decisions will be scrutinized by voters in the event that @BeckyRuth114 decides to run for Missouri Senate,” Eigel posted on social media.
Ruth will leave the legislature after being appointed by Parson on Wednesday to become the Director of the Office of Child Advocate. Last month, Schatz, whose second and final term in the Senate ends in 2023, announced he was running for Blunt’s seat.
Walsh said the budget process should provide more information on how Missouri’s surplus can be used for roads and bridges.
“We will have federal dollars coming and our general revenue is a billion dollars above the forecasted amount,” Walsh said. “I’m not saying not to do anything. I’m saying we can use other funding instead of this gas tax that people would have voted down.”
Walsh’s bill, HB1594, repeals the tax increase and restores the tax to its previous level. A spokesperson with the Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT) said they didn’t have any comment on the bill at this time.
“We will work with the Legislature as the General Assembly reconvenes in 2022,” Linda Horn, MODOT communications director, wrote in an email to The Center Square.