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After passing the Senate, gas tax faces test in the House

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – After passing the Senate on Wednesday night, gas tax legislation will move to the House where there could be bipartisan support for the increase despite stiff opposition.

The Senate passed SB 623, sponsored by Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, which would increase the gas tax of 17 cents per gallon by 5.9 cents. The tax increase would be placed on the ballot in November this year. The tax has not been increased since 1996.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Glen Kolkmeyer, R-Odessa, expressed his support for the gas tax Thursday during the recording of the #moleg podcast.

Kolkmeyer
Kolkmeyer

“I’m definitely supportive of a gas tax increase,” he said. “I think 5.9 cents is reasonable. It’s going to bring in much needed money so we are able to match our federal funds coming in.”

Kolkmeyer and House Minority Leader Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, said the gas tax increase would help support a Department of Transportation that needs the funds for road improvements.

“The fairest way to fund our roads is with the gas tax,” Hummel said on the #moleg podcast. “The people that use the gas are the people that use the roads. That’s how we should fund the roads and transportation in the state.”

Others in the House  want to see a different way to fund transportation than increasing the gas tax. Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, has proposed using the money spent on tax credit programs to fully fund transportation.

Brattin
Brattin

“Right now in the state, about $550 million [of tax credits] are redeemed per year,” he said. “We can’t fund transportation, but we can fund these tax credit programs.”

Brattin’s proposal, HJR 70, would set up a committee to decide what it takes to fully fund transportation. Tax credits would not be able to be released or granted until that number was met. Under Brattin’s proposal, there would be no need for a gas tax.

“We already have the funds, so why would we need to raise the gas tax when we could fully fund with $550 million, probably a whole lot more than the gas tax would,” he said. “I’ve asked the survey question in my district and a majority say, ‘We give you enough of our money. Figure out what to do with the money we already give you.’”

Despite the support of the Minority Leader and the Transportation Committee’s chairman, passage in the House is not guaranteed. House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, has been reluctant to pass a gas tax increase and seemed ambivalent when asked about the Senate legislation.

“It’s more palatable in the Senate, I think, so obviously it would be more palatable to some over here in the House with the referendum clause,” he said. “But I don’t have a crystal ball to know where it’s going yet.”

And outside groups, like Americans for Prosperity, have already called for the House to stop the legislation.

“We are disappointed to see the State Senate vote to approve a gas tax hike on Missourians,” said AFP Missouri Deputy State Director Rachel Payton. “A lot of families are just feeling the relief of some lower gas prices, and with summer coming, we can expect prices to go up, and now we will have to start paying more! This would put us above the national average gas tax.”

If the bill passes and is put to a vote in Missouri, Libla has made the case that improved infrastructure is important for the safety of motorists.

“The continued neglect of adequate predictable funding affects the safety of our families and friends as well as our economic well-being,” he said. “We have to get our “heads out of the sand” and bring our current 20th century funding to a level for 21st century needs.”

Brattin, however, wants voters to know that he has an alternative that wouldn’t require a gas tax increase.

“We already have the funds, so why would we need to raise the gas tax when we could fully fund with $550 million, probably a whole lot more than the gas tax would,” he asked. “I’ve asked the survey question in my district and a majority say, ‘We give you enough of our money. Figure out what to do with the money we already give you.’”

If the gas tax increase passes, getting voters to approve any tax increase could be tricky, Hummel admitted, but he said the need is great.

“We’ve got one of the lowest gas taxes in the country,” he said. “Is it ever popular to raise taxes? No …. Is it critical to Missouri’s economy to replace our aging infrastructure? Absolutely.”