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Gas Tax Defeat Forces Missouri Lawmakers To Look For Alternate Sources Of Funding

Lisa Rodriguez
KCUR 89.3 file photo
Missouri voters didn't go for a gas tax increase, but lawmakers have other ways of bringing in money for road and bridge repairs.

Advocates for more transportation funding in Missouri say lawmakers need to quickly consider alternative funding sources after voters rejected a gas tax increase at the polls this month.

Had it passed, Proposition D would have raised the state’s gas tax by 10 cents to 27 cents per gallon. The state estimated the increase would have brought in$437 million per year for road and bridge improvements, critical for a state that ranks 46th in road funding, according to federal statistics.

“The loss at the ballot box doesn’t make the problems that you’ll see on our roads, our bridges and on our infrastructure, it doesn’t make that go away,” said Karen Buschmann, vice president of communications for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “We believe we need to leave all options on the table.”

One proposal ties the amount vehicle owners pay for registration to inflation, known as indexing. License and registration fees in Missouri have remained flat since 1984.

Republican Rep. Jeff Messenger of Greene County told KCUR he plans to reintroduce legislation to change the index next session; last session’s  bill included indexing the fuel tax as well.

“Surprisingly enough, according to (Missouri Department of Transportation) figures that they gave us, just that indexing alone would have generated about $450 million,” Messenger said. “That was more than what the fuel tax would have increased their funding and it would not have affected the constituents nearly as much because you’re only indexing user fees and not everyone pays the same user fees.”

Messenger, who was the Missouri House Policy Development chair in 2017, said the General Assembly needs to take action.

“I hope that voters understand that if we as legislators take it on ourselves … we’re doing it for the good of the Missourians, not just to generate more revenue,” he said. ‘It’s to generate revenue to increase our road and bridge infrastructure so that we can help our economic development.”

The failed gas tax increase came out of the 21st Century Missouri Transportation System Task Force, a public/private commission that sought solutions to the state’s transportation funding woes. Another of the panel’s recommendation was to change the basis of vehicle registration fees from horsepower to fuel efficiency.

The horsepower measure was first developed in Missouri in 1910.

“Certainly, Missouri is the only that still has that horsepower (measure),” said Kevin Pula, a senior policy analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures. “It’s kind of archaic, but I know they’ve been considering other options.”

Pula said 27 states and the District of Columbia have passed comprehensive transportation funding packages in the recent years, implementing things like higher fuel or sales taxes or new calculations for  license and registration fees.

“It is oftentimes a multiyear effort and conversation in the state House,” Puja said.. “It’s not just a ‘This year, we’re going to tackle transportation and we solve it in the three-month session.’ It is something that takes time, and I know Missouri has been at this for awhile, too.”

Lawmakers can formally file bills beginning Dec. 3. The legislative session starts Jan. 9.

Samuel King is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter: @SamuelKingNews

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