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Missouri House passes measure to give legislators, not MoDOT, control over state road fund

Cars drive down Interstate 64 and U.S. Route 40 on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, in St. Louis, Missouri. Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals, is on the left.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Cars drive down Interstate 64 and U.S. Route 40 on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, in St. Louis, Missouri. Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals, is on the left.

The resolution gives the state legislature appropriations power over the state road fund, which is now under the control of the Transportation Department. Because it’s a proposed constitutional amendment, it must be approved by voters to go into effect.

The Missouri House on Tuesday passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would take control of the state road fund away from the Transportation Department and give it to lawmakers.

The House voted 101-45 to pass the resolution. It now goes to the Senate. Because it’s a proposed constitutional amendment, it would also have to go before voters.

During the initial debate last week, Rep. Don Mayhew, R-Crocker, said every other department in the Missouri government comes before the legislature and presents its full budget.

“This is the only time that the people get to weigh in on the huge amount of money that we spend on their behalf,” Mayhew said.

The Missouri Department of Transportation gets the largest amount of its money from the road fund, which consists of Missouri user fees. In 2022, those fees, like the motor fuel tax, accounted for 63% of state transportation revenue.

According to MoDOT, only 2% of its funding in 2022 came from the Missouri General Revenue Fund, which does go through the budget process.

Rep. Steve Butz, D-St. Louis, said funding for long-term MoDOT projects cannot be left to the annual appropriation process.

“If we have this mantra that says we're always going to lower taxes, no matter what, it doesn't work, it doesn't work at all when it comes to MoDOT and their long-term planning,” Butz said.

In 2021, the legislature passed an increase in the state’s motor fuel tax, which goes up a total of 12.5 cents over a stretch of several years. The current fuel tax is 22 cents per gallon.

Mayhew, who voted against that tax increase, said he brought the resolution before the body because of a recent lawsuit.

In 2021, the Highways and Transportation Commission, which oversees MoDOT, sued the state after the Office of Administration did not approve of raises that went beyond what state lawmakers allocated for that year.

The commission is asking whether it can use its own funds on top of what’s allocated by lawmakers, like the state road fund, to pay for raises. A ruling has not yet been issued.

“Had the lawsuit never happened, I probably wouldn't be standing here today. This action has forced our hand, ladies and gentlemen,” Mayhew said.

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said he believes this is a shortsighted approach to dealing with the issue.

“Sounds to me like folks are mad at MoDOT and now want to take away their money, and that's all this bill gives us the authority to do,” Merideth said.

If passed by both chambers, the issue would likely appear on the November 2024 ballot.

Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Kellogg is St. Louis Public Radio’s Statehouse and Politics Reporter, taking on the position in August 2021. Sarah is from the St. Louis area and even served as a newsroom intern for St. Louis Public Radio back in 2015.
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