St. Louis — The state lawmaker that championed an increase in the gas tax to fund Missouri’s roads was invited to the St. Louis Regional Chamber Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting today to discuss continuing efforts to funnel more money into MoDOT.
Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, spoke to the chamber today as one of three speakers discussing the future of transportation in the state. Last year, Libla championed a proposal to gradually increase the state’s gas tax that would have pumped new money into MoDOT, which secures most of its funding from gas taxes.
“In 1924, the people if Missouri voted that the way they wanted to fund their roads and bridges was through a gas tax,” Libla told The Missouri Times. “We’re talking about an adjustment to that rate, so I don’t consider this some new tax. We have 91 years of precedent that this is the main way we fund our roads and bridges.”
Libla offered a proposal last year that would have raised the state gas tax from 17 cents per gallon to 23 cents over several years. An even smaller proposal, a one-time 2 cent increase, ultimately died in the senate largely thanks to time constraints and substantial opposition from state Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph. The state’s gas tax was last increased from 11 to 17 cents per gallon in a phased-in plan fro 1992-1996.
Earlier this year, MoDOT announced that they would be halting all new road projects or expansions for at least five years, citing a lack of funds. The department also warned that by the next fiscal year, they wouldn’t bring in enough revenue to qualify for matching federal highway dollars. However, MoDOT brought in roughly $40 million more this year in license fees and other revenue sources, likely pushing the federal dollar cliff back by one year.
Many lawmakers in Jefferson City have agreed that the road fund situation is dire, but leaders in both chambers and from both parties are still groping for a solution that can survive votes in the legislature and earn a signature from Gov. Jay Nixon. Some Republican lawmakers have proposed the “three P’s” method: public-private partnership, although that plan remains in the early stages.
Libla told The Missouri Times he had his own “three P’s.”
“Prudent, predictable, practical,” Libla said. “Those are my three P’s. Is it prudent? I believe a reasonable gas tax increase is prudent. It’s definitely predictable, and it’s practical, because we have 91 years that says so.”
Libla said the cost associated with a small gas tax increase could work out to less than $10 per year for the average driver.
“How does that compare to a pot-hole knocking your tire out of balance, or when a company decides not to open up because the roads are bad?” Libla said. “How does that cost compare to when a bridge closes and you have to drive 30 miles out of the way now? How does that compare to the cost of when an ambulance can’t get down a road?”
Some are hoping the voters will increase the state’s tobacco tax in the coming election cycle to send more money to state’s roads. The Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association is circulating a ballot initiative to do just that. Libla said he was open to most ideas, but that creating a “new tax” was not the solution. Still other state lawmakers would like to see a version of Libla’s proposal on the ballot as well, something he called “unnecessary.”
“The people of Missouri elected folks to go up to Jefferson City and make these decisions,” Libla said. “And the people of Missouri already said they wanted to use the gas tax to fund roads and bridges. I just don’t see the point of [a ballot initiative].”
Libla ultimately said he would challenge other lawmakers to present their own alternatives to his plan if they intended to be against it, saying the state has never had a “long term transportation plan.”
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.