Are Missourians more open to raising the fuel tax?

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri voters will get the opportunity this November to vote on a fuel tax increase to help fund roads and bridges projects across the Show-Me State.

Lawmakers in the final week of the legislative session approved a proposal to increase the gas tax by 10 cents, which is set to be placed on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Legislative researchers project that the flat, per-gallon amount could raise as much as $293 million by the fiscal year 2027 to go toward maintenance and repair of roads and bridges, as well as the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

The plan would raise the state gasoline tax by 2.5 cents each year for the next four years until it is fully implemented. If passed and once fully implemented, it is estimated to generate $288 million annually for the State Road Fund and $128 million annually for local transportation projects. This will cost the average driver about $5 per month.

The increase would bring Missouri above the national average of 24 cents per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Missouri has more than 33,000 miles of road, making it the nation’s seventh-largest state highway system, and 10,394 bridges, the sixth most nationally, according to the state task force report released in January. The report also noted that the systems are aging, as many were built in the 1950s and have since surpassed their 20- to 50-year designs. In terms of revenue per mile, however, Missouri comes in at number 47 in the nation and has not been raised since 1996. According to MoDOT, the average spent per mile in Missouri is $48,835 while the national average is $235,113.

Most of the revenue is generated through user fees, such as fuel taxes, vehicle registration, driver licensing fees and motor vehicle sales taxes, the largest of which comes from the 17-cent-per-gallon fuel tax.

And as the months to the November election tick away, supporters of the proposed increase are working hard to create some momentum for the proposal.

The campaign has slowly picked up steam, with Gov. Mike Parson saying he could support such an increase if it would address infrastructure issues.

“I’m going to be supporting infrastructure in the state of Missouri and, yes, if that’s part of the infrastructure plan,” he said. “I think that is important. We need to make sure we’ve got a good plan in place.”

And as the efforts continue moving to sway voters on a proposed fuel tax increase, some lawmakers have taken to social media on the topic.

Rep. Jean Evans shared the results of a poll, which shows increasing support toward the idea of increasing the fuel tax in recent years, compared to other alternatives.

With 29 percent saying that a raised fuel tax would be most acceptable in 2017, it seems that Missourians might be more accepting of the idea than in past years.

In August 2002, for example, voters rejected a proposed half-cent sales tax increase earmarked for transportation plus a 4 cents-per-gallon fuel tax increase, which only received a supporting vote of 27.5 percent. Nearly 60 percent of Missouri voters rejected a three-quarters-cent transportation sales tax in 2014, and legislators have tried several times over the past few years to get it on the ballot.

Rep. Kathie Conway responded to the tweet, saying that a survey of her House district had shown that 63 percent of her constituents would choose a fuel tax increase over the other options.

Less than 37 percent of Missouri business leaders are satisfied with roads and infrastructure according to a recent Gallup survey, meaning that the proposal has received the endorsement of several such organizations in the state, like the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

“Roads in Mid-Missouri, specifically Interstate 70, need to be addressed before they become even more of a safety issue,” Chamber President Matt McCormick said. “Businesses set up in and around Columbia for many reasons, one being the infrastructure in place. If this infrastructure begins to deteriorate, the economy of Missouri and specifically Columbia will feel the effects.”

“If our region and state want to compete on a national level for business, voting yes on Tuesday, November 6 will help achieve that,” McCormick said. “This is also a necessary investment to solve some of the issues with our roads and bridges in regard to efficiency and public safety.”

On June 1, a federation of local chambers of commerce gathered to begin rallying support for the initiative. The Missouri Chamber Federation includes more than 125 local chambers of commerce, and transportation funding has been a top policy goal for them for years now.

“Transportation infrastructure is critical to the health of the economy in our region,” said John Mehner, president and CEO of the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce. “Like many other places in Missouri, the business leaders in our community have grown concerned about the lack of progress being made toward repairing our outdated infrastructure and the inability to invest in new connections needed for the future. Missouri has the seventh largest transportation system and our funding ranks 46th in the nation in revenue per mile. It’s clear that funding is the issue. Our chamber will be working this summer and fall to help members of our community understand what better transportation funding could mean for our region.”

“We need to make sure that Missourians across our state understand that infrastructure funding is critical to the future of our economy. In addition, they must also know that improving our state’s roads and bridges can create a safer transportation environment for Missouri families,” said Scott Tate, president and CEO of the Greater St. Charles County Chamber of Commerce. “With this vote coming up in November, it’s critical that we, as chamber leaders, are doing our part to bring this information to our communities. We need to help everyone in our state understand why infrastructure funding is important.”

“Transportation funding is a statewide problem and it will take statewide collaboration to find a solution,” said Daniel P. Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “I’d like to thank the members of the Missouri Chamber Federation for their enthusiasm as we begin this effort. We are excited to work alongside local chambers across Missouri as we have the opportunity to take a significant step forward as a state and finally address our transportation funding problem.”

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 benjamin@themissouritimes.com or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.