Jefferson City, MO — Transportation is emerging as a key issue for the general assembly. Last week, Chairman of the Highways and Transportation Commission, Rudy Farber, called on lawmakers to institute a 1-cent sales tax increase to raise nearly $8 billion over 10 years.
Bill McKenna, a spokesperson for the Missouri Transportation Alliance and former senator and Chairman of the Highway Commission, said he believed a real improvement for Missouri roads was possible because transportation was a “transcendent,” issue.
“Rural or urban, democrat or republican, everybody benefits from transportation,” McKenna said. “Republicans think one of the functions of government is to build roads and bridges, and better roads are safer for citizens.”
McKenna, who firmly supports the sales tax increase, said that he anticipates some resistance to any increase in taxes in the current political climate, but that the issue would win out on the ballot.
“I think the voters are far ahead of the legislators,” McKenna said. “And I say that as a former legislator. When people get the plan in front of them, when there is transparency and sunsets and timelines are set, it’s what people like to see in government: accountability and transparency and smart governing.”
Dave Hinson, republican representatives and transportation committee member, who told The Missouri Times he intended to file a funding bill for MODOT, joined McKenna in supporting the sales tax increase. Hinson said he would file a bill along with legislation from Mike Kehoe in the Senate.
“We’re still working out the details and the sunsets,” Hinson said. “The idea is to amend the constitution to assure that the money raised from this tax would go right to MODOT. We would also look to freeze the gas tax during that time so the consumer doesn’t have to worry about the gas tax going up on top of the sales tax.”
Hinson said “enabling language” was the key to bringing more funding to MODOT, language that permits tax increases for specific purposes that must be approved by a ballot measure in a general election.
While some more conservative members of the House have voiced concern over tax increases in a politically shaky climate, Hinson said he believes much of the majority caucus will ultimately support the measure, if it meets the necessary standards.
“We’re the Show-Me state because we’re show-me people, we’re skeptical,” Hinson said. “So we’ll be skeptical of this until we see how good the plan is. MODOT has done a lot to improve themselves and their standing in the state, and once they bring specifics to the people and we can show the benefit, I think we’ll ultimately be successful.”
MODOT Director, Kevin Keith, testified before the transportation committee in an informational hearing to argue for the necessity of implementing the sales tax. During his testimony, Keith told the committee MODOT has an 85 percent customer satisfaction rating, despite shrinking revenue from gas taxes and presiding over the 7th largest highway system in the country.
Keith told the committee that the first plan MODOT has for any new funding was a rebuilding of I-70 from Wentzville to Independence, adding lanes in each direction and improving overpasses.
“We’ll get that done in 5 years, and it’ll be fast fast fast,” Keith said. “We can’t really afford to take our time on I-70 and we have a plan in place to tackle that.”
Collin Reischman can be reached by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter at @CReischman