JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Following the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the Governor’s Committee on Simple, Fair and Low Taxes returned to their work, with just one month left before the deadline to submit their findings to Governor Eric Greitens.
As the committee worked around the legislative session and the following extraordinary session, the number of members in attendance has steadily dwindled, with only two present at the last meeting. But Tuesday’s meeting saw an increase in attendance, with nine members attending in person or by phone. In fact, the only member absent from the meeting was Rep. Holly Rehder.
This week, the committee continued their lecture series, kicking it off with a presentation from Patrick McKenna, the director of the Missouri Department of Transportation.
“We have some really important things to touch on today,” Chairman Joel Walters told the committee. “One place we haven’t spent a lot of time on is fuel credits and funding of infrastructure.”
He then deferred to McKenna, saying that the committee needed to build those aspects into their thinking, considering the costs and the right level of taxation.
“What is best practice? What are they doing differently?” Walters said.
McKenna outlined the budget of MoDOT, pointing out how their funding is provided and how it is used. While dealing the statistics out to the committee, he pointed out that Missouri has the seventh most roads in the nation, with nearly 34,000 roads. MoDOT’s revenue comes in at roughly $2.5 billion, but the state still ranks 47th in funding for roads and bridges.
He said Missourians have paid approximately $54 billion over the last 100 years into taxes for infrastructure.
But Sen. Will Kraus raised the question of whether the system was effective.
“We’re 17th in population, but why are we 7th in transportation?” he asked.
McKenna responded that it all relates to how much usage the roads get while pointing to two contributing figures as causes for the disparity in funding, saying that a fuel tax, which has not changed in decades, coupled with rising costs due have made it hard to keep up in matching federal funds.
McKenna said that a gas tax of 17 cents in the 90s is now the equivalent of 8 cents, due to inflation. He also said that when people think about the funding for MoDOT, they often forget about all of the things that cost money.
“Traffic crashes cost money – about $4.8 billion per year,” he told the committee, noting that it costs average Missourian $93 per month. In fact, MoDOT estimates that, when combined, congestion, additional vehicle operating costs and roadway crashes cost each Missouri driver about $169 per month.
“No one wants to pay more in taxes than they have to, but a system that you’re paying $30 a month into and it’s costing almost $170, there’s some room for movement, we believe. I look at these things as simply looking at the impact of inflation over time.” McKenna said. “We’re not in a position in which the public wants the government to increase in size.”
McKenna says they’ve been able to restructure debt to take advantage of lower capital, paying about 3 percent in interest, but that if they were to adjust the gas tax for inflation, they estimate it could bring in up to $500 million more.
The committee also heard testimony from Rod Chapel, the president of the Missouri NAACP, who spoke to the effects that taxes have on the lower class. He said the NAACP was in favor of a earned income tax credit, saying it would provide an annual reprieve for Missourians.
The committee, meanwhile, continues their work with the scheduled town hall events, having completed two now. Their next town hall event will be this Friday in Cape Girardeau.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.