Lawmakers to consider gas tax ideas
We at AIM and MTD are encouraged there seems to be so much momentum for something to happen in the area of transportation funding. We hope that momentum will manifest itself in a solution that will lead to more funds for roads.
From the St. Joseph News Press
With another legislative session set to begin, state lawmakers will once again have the opportunity to pore over proposals to increase Missouri’s fuel tax.
Already, several lawmakers are floating their own projects they believe would help resolve the state’s now-chronic malady of funding for road and bridge projects. Each Dec. 1, legislators can begin the process of making laws by entering prefiled bills into the system before the annual session, which starts Wednesday.
Among those is a Missouri Senate Joint Resolution filed by State Sen. Dr. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph. The resolution proposes an amendment to the Missouri Constitution, pending voter approval, that would grow the current 17.3 cent-a-gallon tax on gas by 1.5 cents, to 18.8 cents. The current 17.3-cent diesel tax would increase by 3.5 cents to 20.8 cents. Revenue from the upgraded taxes would be apportioned as the rest of state road funds are currently distributed.
Schaaf’s measure would also repeal the provision which assigns funds for the state’s letter routes in each county — which would become responsible for local control and maintenance based on a particular revenue stream that would be allowable under state law.
“I think that’s the most viable thing,” he said of the letter routes portion, reasoning the state has too many roads under its control.
Federal matching dollars for transportation have already been secured for Missouri for the next 1½ years, which Schaaf said would provide ample time to set the stage for the public vote. Any proposal for raising taxes without such approval of the new structure would be unacceptable, he added.
“I’ve offered many compromises,” Schaaf said when asked whether there’s leeway in his proposal to blend with other gas tax suggestions.
Although not part of the resolution, he also favors a public/private partnership establishing a tolling system for Interstate 70.
Several other local lawmakers weighed in on the prospects for enacting a gas tax hike through legislative action this year.
Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, said he disagrees with his colleague’s proposal only on the terms of transmitting road control back to counties.
“Where are you going to get the money?” Hegeman asked, adding that his counties do not favor the return of that responsibility.
Another proposal, filed by State Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, would raise the motor fuel tax by 1.5 cents a gallon and increase the diesel tax by 3.5 cents, starting Oct. 1. A positive vote by the Missouri General Assembly would be required, but Hegeman believes residents would prefer their own action on such projects. An effort led by Libla failed to gain traction as the 2015 session wound down to a close.
He also favors instituting toll roads on I-70 and Interstate 44, an idea that may free up funds for bridge work in Northwest Missouri.
“Our people will be traveling on those roads,” he said. “Our merchandise would be traveling” over the interstates, he added.
Hegeman said he prefers to be optimistic that a transportation funding solution can arrive despite the climate that comes with an election year. A public vote would carry accountabilty and transparency of road projects, he said.
Rep. Delus Johnson, R-St. Joseph, said any legislation seeking to raise the gas tax will have little or no chance of passing this year. But he recognizes the challenge set before both chambers. He serves as Majority Whip for the House, a position which involves helping line up votes.
“Transportation funding will be one of Missouri’s top priorities in 2016,” Johnson said.
A fellow House member, Rep. Pat Conway, D-St. Joseph, said Rep. Margo McNeil, D-Florissant, has put together a plan to raise the tax, through voter approval, to 24 cents for fuel and 25 cents for diesel.
“That’s probably what we’re going to end up doing,” he said on the consideration of voter-linked proposals.
Yet Conway said he has doubts the mood among lawmakers will allow for much progress on gas tax increases during an election year.
“The campaign to do this is going to need some stimulus to get it going,” he said.
One state business group regards its answer to transportation funding as the prime starting point of the conversation. Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Assocation, said an initiative petition is being prepared to pursue a tobacco tax increase to generate about $100 million a year in revenue for transportation’s infrastructure.
“We are full bore on that,” Leone said. “It essentially moves the ball forward.”
The Missouri Department of Transportation itself will be observing developments, according to Jay Wunderlich, the agency’s governmental relations director. Improved funding is part of MoDOT’s legislative agenda.
“We still need approximately $160 million for additional revenues,” Wunderlich said. “You all probably have the biggest majority of bridges that need attention,” he added, referring to Northwest Missouri. “We’ll take funding anywhere we can get it.”
Libla’s approach to provide funding for MoDOT’s needs represents the best jumping-off point, he said.