JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Lawmakers in the Senate appear unlikely to advance a measure that would increase Missouri’s gas tax by two cents per gallon – the first increase in 20 years.
Sen. Doug Libla, a Republican, originally proposed a six-cent increase in the gas tax phased in over the next three years, but dialed back the measure on the floor in an effort to wrangle more support from his fellow Republicans. Libla’s proposal sought a one-time increase of two cents, which would kick in Jan 1, 2016. Ultimately, it was disagreement among the ranks of his own party the forced the bill to be laid over.
Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, largely led the charge against the bill, arguing that increased taxes on Missouri citizens for MoDOT projects was the wrong course given the defunct sale tax increase meant to fund road projects that voters soundly rejected last August.
Libla’s bill comes as MoDOT reports that they will no longer have enough in their budget to meet minimum federal standards for matching dollars related to road construction by July of 2016. Libla’s watered-down two-cent proposal would have only sustained matching dollars through 2017.
Schaaf took to the floor early and held it for much of the evening, touting his own proposal currently in committee that would allow MoDOT to establish public-private partnerships to manage Missouri’s roads that would likely result in tolls.
Libla argued that his bill was effectively a temporary stopgap, a small and unobtrusive increase that essentially would “keep lights on” in MoDOT while state lawmakers weighed meatier options for the beleaguered department, which has been slashed by more than 20 percent in recent years. Schaaf said it was unconscionable for his fellow conservatives to allow for a tax increase without putting the issue on the ballot and offered an amendment to do just that.
The lengthy debate on that amendment swallowed several hours, and at roughly 9:30 p.m., the Senate was hastily adjourned after Libla’s bill was laid over, a sign the bill is unlikely to see much significant progress as the session winds into its final month.