Last February, I wrote an op-ed that was published in The Missouri Times entitled “Missouri’s Red Vision is Blind to Progress.” In that article, I complained that Missouri Republican legislators and their unyielding anti-tax dogma have blocked almost all progress in Missouri including that of our very underfunded state highway system.
Last week, Missouri Republican legislators did something to “Show Me” that they are not always blind to progress by passing the gas tax bill that Republican Gov. Mike Parson already declared he would sign. The ramifications of this bill are that Missouri will no longer be at the bottom of the barrel in state road funding.
Missouri’s last gas tax hike was in 1996 which has resulted in our highway funding ranking No. 49 out of 50 states despite the fact that we have the 7th most miles to maintain. Missouri will have the first increase in fuel tax in 25 years, and when it is fully implemented, we will have made up for inflation.
Fortunately, a bipartisan task force was commissioned in 2018 which was made up of political, business, and professional leaders from every corner of Missouri, including several senators (including Dave Schatz); state representatives (including former Rep. Kevin Corlew as chairman); one mayor (myself); Highway Patrol Superintendent Sandra Karsten; trucking executives, construction executives; retail executives; and citizens.
The Missouri 21st Century Transportation Task Force hosted meetings all across Missouri, — including Jefferson City, St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, Kirksville, and Cape Girardeau — to solicit information and testimony on the priorities that Missouri stakeholders felt were important to the Missouri transportation infrastructure.
The testimony received and the deliberations of the task force resulted in an urgent and compelling recommendation to gradually raise the fuel tax and to charge higher user fees for electric vehicles. At the last minute, the 2018 legislature tacked on an amendment to an unrelated bill so as to pass their responsibility for implementing the recommendations to the voters.
Parson invested strong and active support for the confusing transportation November 2018 ballot measure as did Missouri municipalities, counties, construction trades, trucking associations, and engineering professions. The measure came close but failed by a small margin. Two Republicans, Parson and Schatz, kept the fire burning for the past two and a half years.
Since I have authored several newspaper articles challenging the Republicans in our state, I think it is only fair for me to speak out with approval when Missouri Republicans do the right thing. I communicated my support to Parson and to Schatz when it became obvious that they were using their leadership to advance an increase in Missouri highway funding.
Parson met early in his administration with various stakeholders in the state, including myself and other members of Missouri Mayors United for Progress, only days after taking his oath of office. We encouraged him to put highway infrastructure at the top of his priority list, which he did, and he has never wavered in his support.
Schatz and I have had a few municipality-related disagreements, but we put that aside when we were both members of the Missouri 21st Century Transportation Task Force. There, we both listened to testimony from the Missouri Department of Transportation convincing us they have been good stewards of the limited resources they have had to maintain our Missouri highway system. We also heard from stakeholders from the entire state of Missouri whose testimony convinced us how important our highway system is to our state’s economy.
Thank you to Missouri Republicans in the 2021 General Assembly for responding to Parson and Schatz’s leadership in raising the Missouri gas tax to make up for inflation since 1996. This is not a be-all-end-all, but at least it does allow us to make up for some lost time and get us out of last place in the nation. Bravo, Missouri Republicans, for taking a very important step in the right direction. Here’s hoping for more pragmatic good governance in the future.
Thomas P. Schneider was the mayor of Florissant from 2011 to 2019. Prior to that, he served on the Florissant City Council from 1979 to 2011.