Last week was the last week of this year’s legislative session. By all accounts it looked like MoDOT’s 1% sales tax proposal would be on the ballot for voter approval. It passed the Senate. It passed the House with a few minor changes. Because of these changes, it went back to the Senate. Since it had already passed the Senate, and the changes were minor, it was a complete surprise when, at the 11th hour, a couple of senators started a filibuster. The filibusterers held firm during Friday’s attempt to bring the bill back for discussion and the bill died.
Movies and TV romanticize the filibuster. In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Senator Smith uses a filibuster to achieve justice. In West Wing, Senator Stackhouse, grandfather of an autistic boy, uses a filibuster to restore funding for autism research.
In reality, the filibuster puts too much power into the hands of too few. Hundreds of people spent thousands of hours crafting the 1% sales tax proposal. Other options were considered: To raise the equivalent funds in fuel tax would require a 25-cent per gallon sales tax, and polls show that Missourians won’t support more than a 5-cent increase. Missourians won’t support a $200 increase in the vehicle registration fee either. Similarly, there was low popular support for toll roads or a combination proposal. Many groups were consulted. Everyone had a chance to contribute.
Is a 1% sales tax the best option? Is it fair? Probably not, but it was the best option that stood a chance with the voters. Bike/ped groups supported it because it would fund transportation—not just roads and bridges, but many modes of transportation, including bike/ped.
But because the tradition of filibustering allowed a couple of senators to throw the whole thing away, we don’t get a chance to vote on the 1% sales tax. (The U.S. House of Representatives did away with the filibuster in 1842. Since they can’t get anything done even without a filibuster, I’d hate to see them with one!)
I don’t know what happens next. Maybe MoDOT will try again next year. I’ve heard about something called a Citizen’s Petition but I don’t know how it works. But if nothing happens, our roads continue to crumble and bike/ped continues to get left behind.