Gas tax bill gets first committee hearing

Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, presents his gas tax increase bill to the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee Jan. 13, 2016. TRAVIS ZIMPFER/THE MISSOURI TIMES

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee heard a bill which again proposes the first gas tax increase since 1996.

Sen. Doug Libla’s SB 623, similar to 2015’s SB 540, would alter the gas tax by 1.5 cents per gallon on gasoline and 3.5 cents per gallon on diesel fuel. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has practically begged for increased funding the past few years, and Libla’s bill is expected to act as a vanguard piece of legislation in getting that funding to MoDOT.

“This is a problem that has occurred over the last 20 years because we have had our head in the sand,” Libla said. He noted that multiple factors had contributed to greater expenses and fewer revenues for MoDOT recently, including increased costs in road construction materials (which have increased more than 200 percent since the 1990s), inflation, and vehicles with better fuel mileage or those that use alternative fuels.

Patrick McKenna provides informational testimony which supports Libla's bill. (Travis Zimpfer/The Missouri Times)

Patrick McKenna provides informational testimony which supports Libla’s bill. PHOTO/TRAVIS ZIMPFER – THE MISSOURI TIMES

MoDOT’s new director Patrick McKenna addressed the committee, stressing the importance of funding one of the largest road systems in the nation; MoDOT oversees 30,000 miles of roadways and 10,400 bridges.

“Much of this system was made by investments by our parents and grandparents,” McKenna said. “These investments have served us well, but they are aging and need our help.”

McKenna also credited his organization for the efficiencies it created before his arrival in November. MoDOT downsized significantly over the past five years, consolidating districts, reducing the size of its workforce, and sold properties. McKenna said these actions saved $600 million over five years.

Ron Leone, the executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, was just one of nearly two dozen representatives of organizations around the state that testified in favor of the legislation. He noted that each penny increase of the motor fuel tax raises around $37 million per year. Leone called it a good start, but he favored an even more aggressive increase, preferably up to four cents per gallon.

In fact, one of the criticisms of the bill levied by Jeremy Cady from the Missouri Alliance for Freedom, the only group that testified in opposition to the legislation, was that it was not a long-term solution. He also argued that a gas tax was an “easy way out.”

Sen. Gary Romine, R-Ste. Genevieve, a member of the committee, took issue with that assessment.

“This is not an easy issue,” he said. “This is not an easy decision.”

Libla also stated that Missourians had endorsed a gas tax as a solution for transportation and infrastructure funding for nearly a century.

“For 92 years, this is how we’ve determined how we fund our roads and bridges,” he said. “Detractors never have a plan. This is a plan… It’s not a new tax, it’s an adjustment.”

However, Libla and the present members of the committee who all seemed to support the bill, do agree that this increase is a temporary fix and that it will not solve the myriad of problems MoDOT wants to solve and projects it wants to achieve.

 

FEATURED PHOTO/TRAVIS ZIMPFER – THE MISSOURI TIMES: Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, presents his gas tax increase bill to the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee Jan. 13, 2016.

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