Transportation Taskforce unsure how best to improve Missouri infrastructure

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The 21st Century Transportation System Task Force met Wednesday to discuss strategies to finance improving Missouri’s infrastructure. At the meeting, the task force proposed various options to include raising the gas tax, differentiating between urban and rural infrastructures, complying with federal stipulations to receive federal funds, removing low income tax credits, sweeping the money from other funds, or allowing the voters to decide – none of which were unanimously approved or promised any solutions.

“As an ex-banker [I can say,] Missouri transportation is insolvent. [The state has] three times the road miles it should have for a state this size,” Gwen Moore from the League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis said. “This is hurting everybody. It’s hurting urban and rural [areas.]”

Taskforce Chair Rep. Kevin Corlew mentioned at the final moments of the meeting that he will be issuing a report which will outline an immediate recommendation for the legislature, a method to develop a “diverse and sustainable revenue stream,” and legislative “fixes” to help the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) run more efficiently.

The “fixes,” as he says, would be small pieces of legislation that would improve drivers’ safety on roadways and bring Missouri into compliance with federal standards. Some of the proposed changes would be implementing a restriction on open containers of alcohol in moving vehicles, putting restrictions on texting while driving, and updating seatbelt requirements for children. Making these changes could grant Missouri access to $2-$3 million of federal grants.

One of the most talked about ideas was raising the gas tax in various forms. Advocates of the idea point to the fact that Missouri has one of the lowest gas taxes in the country and raising it could make Missouri compliant with the standards of the rest of the country. Additionally, through the gas tax, drivers in Missouri exclusively pay for the roads which they use. Arguments against raising the gas tax were that the low gas prices bring truck drivers through the state and provide constant economic impact. Sen. Bill Eigel was against a tax increase of any kind.

“I think most of the committee members already know, I am a critic of raising anybody’s taxes,” Eigel said. “As long as we’re in an environment where the people of Missouri are already sending record amounts of revenue to Jefferson City, I will not support tax increases.”

Another proposed idea against raising the gas tax would be that due to the emergence of electric power cars, some drivers would not have to pay for the state’s road maintenance and proposed a specific tax for electric cars.

Vice Chair Dave Schatz was adamant that he wanted to simplify the task force policies so that the task force can agree on fewer details and especially so that the voters can understand the issues.

“If we do not keep this process simple, we’re going to confuse voters and we’re not going to get anything done on this issue,” Schatz said. “I trust the fact that we can probably improve that process, but if it’s mandatory for us to get a tax increase to address road and transportation funding, it’ll fail miserably when we start fighting over [only a small] piece of the pie.”

Michael Layer is a reporter for the Missouri Times and the Missouri Times Magazine. He joined the Missouri Times in August 2017 after graduating from Goucher College the previous May. To contact Michael, email michael@themissouritimes.com or follow him on Twitter @_MichaelLayer