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Op-Ed: Where in the world did all of these highways and bridges come from?

Thankfully, back in 1924, forward thinking citizens convinced their legislators that Missouri needed a system of “hard surface” highways. The big issue then, as it is now, how to pay for it? All motorists, traveling in and through Missouri help pay for the great highway system we know and enjoy every day. It is thought that approximately 50% of this fuel tax is collected from out of state motorists upon purchasing fuel at the pump. What started out in 1924 as a 2c per gallon motor fuel “user” tax is currently 17c per gallon and has been the same since 1996. Close to 30% of this revenue is dedicated to cities and counties across Missouri.

Who manages this money? It goes into our state highway trust fund and overseen by 6 volunteer highway commissioners that are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Missouri Senate. In addition, regional planning and local citizen commissions spread all across the state help identify their individual highway priorities with these highway commissioners annually.

Can this money be co-mingled with general revenue of the state? No, it is set aside in its own account and not subject to appropriations by the legislature.

Why do we have a funding shortage in our road fund? Governor John Ashcroft had the foresight and courage in 1992 to sign into law a 2+2+2 graduated fuel tax adjustment. Missouri legislature’s failure of adjusting the motor fuel “user” tax rate since 1996 has not kept up with inflation of construction, maintenance, labor and other overhead. These costs in many cases have tripled.

We must move Missouri forward. The safety of the motoring public, our families and economic development are too important to continue neglecting. Let’s get our heads together and “out of the sand” then realize, that we cannot build our 21st transportation needs with 20th century purchasing power.

Different funding scenarios from toll roads to general revenue are being discussed by many well intentioned legislators. This should not be a huge mystery, the best funding solution has been with us for 93 years. Motor fuel “user” tax has proven to be both fair, reliable, sustainable, and equitable. The rate needs to be adjusted.

Sen. Doug Libla represents Missouri’s 25th Senate District