Our Opinion: Who should pay costs to improve transportation?

News Tribune editorial

Although a blue ribbon typically signifies a winner, the Blue Ribbon Citizens Committee on Missouri’s Transportation Needs failed to identifying a winning funding source for its ambitious proposal.

The 22-member panel last week released a voluminous report that recommends Missouri allocate up to $1 billion more each year to its transportation system, which includes roads, bridges, rail, ports and public transportation.

Where will those hundreds of millions of dollars come from?

The report reads: “The committee makes no recommendation regarding which way is best, but merely wants to state the options ...”

The list includes: general fund revenues; bonding, tolling and/or public private partnerships; sales tax; fuel tax; license and registration fees; vehicle mile tax; and transportation districts.

Those funding options generally fall into two separate categories — everyone pays or users pay.

Everyone pays when, for example, the general fund or sales taxes finance transportation. The rationale is everyone benefits from the safe and efficient flow of traffic and commerce.

Toll roads, fuel taxes and license and registration fees are among examples where users pay for transportation improvements. The rationale is users who cause deterioration or wear and tear on the system should pay for maintenance and improvements.

Under Missouri’s existing financing method, users largely pay for the transportation system, funded primarily by state fuel taxes, part of a state sales tax on vehicles and federal money raised by the federal government’s tax on fuels.

Some local projects are public-private partnerships, including toll operations, and Transportation Development Districts that collect local sales taxes.

Does Missouri seek added revenues from users, switch the burden to everyone or propose some combination of both? Or is the status quo — characterized as maintenance mode — sufficient?

The problems and the options are hardly new.

The $1 billion need and the various options of paying for it all have been discussed before, by transportation agency officials and lawmakers.

Our state senator, Republican Mike Kehoe, suggests bringing key stakeholders together to refine recommendations and “see if there is a coordinated plan” voters will accept.

What would you accept?

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