JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, called a gas tax increase necessary to help Missouri’s highways and bridges when he presented his bill to the House Transportation Committee Tuesday afternoon.
During the hearing, the tax saw little opposition and was supported by groups including the Missouri Department of Transportation, Missouri’s truckers and the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association (MPCA).
“It is this simple. Since 1924, motor fuel user tax is the way we have invested in our highways and bridges. Period. That is 92 years of history,” Libla said. “Those who use it help pay for it. If you drive more, you pay more. If you drive a little less, you pay less.”
Libla’s legislation would raise the gas tax in Missouri by 5.9 cents if approved by the voters of the state. He says the revenue is sorely needed to help improve the state’s highways and bridges.
“Everyday we are falling further and further behind,” he said. “I believe our economic vitality and good future rely on roads and bridges.”
He also said that the purchasing power of the state’s current gas tax has decreased since it was last raised in 1996. As an example, he said the cost of adding a half-inch of asphalt overlay on roads has increased by three times the amount, but “we’re trying to pay for it with 20th century funding.”
Pat McKenna, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, echoed that concern.
“We’re dealing with literally 50 percent of the purchasing power that we had the last time the gas tax was raised,” he said, noting that the state’s 16 cent gas tax is essentially worth only 8 cents a gallon.
On the committee, led by Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer, R-Odessa, there seemed to be broad support for the idea of raising the gas tax to improve infrastructure.
“We take those bridges for granted,” said Kolkmeyer, referencing the I-70 Missouri River crossing at Rocheport on his drive home to Odessa and a recent trip he took to KCI. “That we can cross the Missouri River, that we can cross I-70 or all these highways, we just take that for granted.”
But some members were concerned about how it would do at the polls.
“I think it’s the right thing to do, is to go to the people and ask them,” said Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville. “I’ve got to go home and sell this to my people and it’s going to be an extremely tough sell.”
And Rep. Bob Burns, D-St. Louis, was supportive of the measure but wondered whether the bipartisan support would be there to sell the bill. Specifically, he was worried about opposition from conservatives who would not support any type of tax increase.
In the House, two representatives not on the Transportation Committee have proposed their own solutions to the infrastructure problem. Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville would force infrastructure to be fully funded before any tax credits could be relinquished. And Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-St. Louis, has proposed that the amount of income tax and sales tax withheld by businesses be capped and all funds over the cap be put into a transportation fund.