Libla proposes fuel tax increase spread over multiple years

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A bill increasing the state’s fuel tax garnered support from outside agencies during a hearing Thursday morning.

Appearing before the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee, Sen. Doug Libla, who sponsored the bill, said the Senate had a “fiduciary duty to take care of roads and bridges and the safety of kids on school buses.”

SB 430 would increase the motor fuel tax by two cents every year until it is fully phased in at 23 cents per gallon. The tax would be adjusted annually for inflation after it’s been in place for three years.

“User tax is the most fair and equitable way to fund our highway and bridge needs. Those who use it help pay for it,” Libla said in a statement to The Missouri Times. “Since approximately 50 percent of the fuel purchased in Missouri is by out-of-state motorists, it is the only way to share the cost of maintaining our citizen-owned highway system with those who utilize our important roadways.”

The current tax stands at 17 cents per gallon. The last time Missouri raised the fuel tax was in 1996.

The state also requires voter approval before the General Assembly can increase taxes beyond a certain annual amount. Missouri voters rejected Proposition D, a measure that would have increased the fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon, last year.

Libla, the Republican chairman of the Transportation committee, praised the Missouri Department of Transportation for having “done a masterful job of keeping our roads [and] bridges safe with no extra dollars since 1996.” He said it’s imperative to “bring our revenue up to 21st century needs” in order to have “safe roads that our citizens and visitors expect and deserve.”

On behalf of a myriad of organizations — from the Department of Transportation to local Chambers of Commerce — several people voiced support for the bill before the committee Thursday. No one testified in opposition.

But Republican state Sen. Bill Eigel, a member of the Transportation committee, took umbrage with testimonies that Missourians don’t pay enough to use roads, contending that even though Missouri does have a low fuel tax when compared to other states, citizens are still paying “a lot of taxes already.”

“We shouldn’t look at this question through the simple lens of just one of the taxes we pay: fuel tax,” Eigel told The Missouri Times. “[Legislators] need to prioritize revenue to what the citizens care most about — and transportation is high on that list.”

As a senator, Eigel promised to “fight for better prioritization of the money we’re already getting” from taxpayers. He said it’d be possible to reach a compromise if an increased fuel tax came with cuts to taxation elsewhere.

“They’ve already done their part by sending us record amounts of revenue. They’re not going to allow us to continue to solve their problems by asking for more money,” he said.

The fiscal note for SB 430 predicts the increased tax would generate $194.3 million for the State Road Fund and $84.8 million for local funds by 2023.

However, it also noted it would increase the costs for several agencies, including the Missouri Highway Patrol (MHP). The MHP estimated the tax increase would cost about $127,367 in additional expenditures by the third year of its implementation. The state’s Department of Conservation, too, predicted an “unknown negative fiscal impact” that should be less than $100,000 per year.