Rejection of transportation sales tax effects cities, counties

Amendment 7: What's next?

This is a 2009 aerial view of the Jefferson City Memorial Airport. Runway expansion at the airport was one of numerous local projects that would have been funded through the transportation sales tax if it had passed.

This is a 2009 aerial view of the Jefferson City Memorial Airport. Runway expansion at the airport was one of numerous local projects that would have been funded through the transportation sales tax if it had passed.

With the failure of Constitutional Amendment 7, known as the transportation sales tax, comes the loss of $40 million worth of projects that would have come to Cole County and funds that would have gone to both county and city governments.

Last week, Missouri voters rejected the transportation sales tax, which would have funded hundreds of highway and transportation projects across the state and sought to create a 3/4-cent sales tax to raise $5.4 billion. Of that, $540 million would have been directly turned over to cities and counties throughout the state.

Jefferson City Administrator Steve Crowell said the city estimated it would have received $295,000 per year that could have been spent on a few different uses.

“It is our understanding that this money could have been used for ‘city road, street and bridge expenses,’ which could have been used (subject to determination by mayor and City Council at budget time) for general fund related expenses such as labor, materials, supplies, etc,” Crowell said in an email.

City officials have held off on the annual budget process, which normally begins mid-summer, in order to see how statewide issues, such as the transportation sales tax, turned out. Though the city’s 2015 budget has yet to be set, Crowell said the draft budget at no time included the potential revenue from the tax, so its failure doesn’t have a real impact on the 2015 outlook.

But that doesn’t mean city officials would not have liked to see the measure pass. In late July, the City Council unanimously approved a resolution supporting the amendment.

Crowell said his own estimations showed the city could have received roughly $245,000 in the first year of the tax, which could have provided a bit more flexibility in a tight budget.

“We did not count on the additional revenue, but it would have certainly given the mayor and City Council at least another option to discuss at budget time,” Crowell said. “If the measure did pass, then there would have been the additional $245,000 in revenue which (again subject to approval by the mayor and City Council) would have addressed some of the budget challenges on which staff is working.”

Cole County Public Works Director Larry Benz said the county would have received funds that could have assisted with ongoing road costs. Even though he said they weren’t counting on the money, Benz said now that the tax has failed, the county will need to look at ways to conserve supplies.

“Over the 10 years of the tax, the county would have received just over $2 million, or $200,000 a year, to be used for repairs like additional overlay and chip and seal,” Benz said. “Our costs are going up. Salt prices went up from last year. We’re going to have to find new ways to conserve and use our salt supplies.”

Cole County Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger said the failure of the tax means there won’t be as many cooperative projects between the county and state as in previous years.

“We’ll be able to do cooperative projects with Jefferson City, but other areas in the county which could have seen expansion or improvements probably won’t, and that’s disappointing,” Ellinger said.

Ellinger said voters’ rejection of the tax show that MoDOT continues to have issues with being responsive to taxpayer concerns, pointing to the department’s 15-Year Plan from 1992.

That plan — approved by the Legislature and not by voters — would have made a number of improvements to roads and bridges statewide, including widening Interstate 70 to three lanes in each direction. To pay for it, lawmakers approved a 6-cent increase in the fuels tax, phased in 2 cents at a time in 1992, ’94 and ’96.

The Highways and Transportation Commission later made changes in the way fuel tax money was distributed between rural and metropolitan areas, generating complaints from the Farm Bureau and others.

Although many of the projects in the plan eventually were finished, the commission decided in November 1998 that the department couldn’t afford the 1992 road and bridge building plan, and replaced it with a series of “rolling” five-year plans that are updated every year.

Ellinger said the method of outlining projects every five years when a county half-cent sales tax is renewed is a good method that allows taxpayers to see that projects are completed before approving the next installment, something that likely would have worked better for MoDOT than the 15-Year Plan.

Canceled projects

The transportation sales tax planned to pay for more than 800 projects throughout the state. In Jefferson City and Cole County, projects included:

  • Expanding the Whitton Expressway by an additional lane in each direction from Clark Avenue to Missouri Boulevard — cost of $17.17 million.
  • Expanding runways at the Jefferson City Memorial Airport — cost of $4.2 million.
  • Expanding the city’s transit system, JeffTran, by four hours each day — cost of $8 million.
  • Creating a transit service line between Jefferson City and Columbia using OATS shuttle buses — cost of $1 million.
  • Funding improvements to Jefferson City’s Amtrak Train Station, from renovations to improving handicap accessibility — cost of $5 million.

MoDOT officials have said throughout the tax campaign that if the measure failed at the ballot, the 800-plus projects are all off the table.

For Jefferson City, the expansion of transit service would have eased a consistent issue as council members struggle to try and cut the roughly $1 million general fund subsidy to transit service without cutting the service itself, which currently only runs from 6:40 a.m.-5:45 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Ashley Varner, with Citizens for JeffTran, said the additional money, combined with other potential funding sources, would have helped make substantial improvements to the city’s transit service, though she added that the sales tax method also would have hit those who rely on transit hardest.

“Keep in mind that the sales tax that did not pass is a very regressive tax, meaning the poor or those who live in poverty would have been hardest hit; one of the populations that utilizes public transit,” Varner said.

For Cole County, several projects in the area would have alleviated ongoing issues that the county is unable to address right now. Benz said one such project was the overlay and widening of Route B, from Jefferson City to Meta.

“There’s a lot of accidents on that road, with runoffs of tractor trailers taking place year-round,” Benz said.

Another project that would have helped the county was adding lanes to the Whitton Expressway. Benz said that project would have helped alleviate congestion on the highly used road.

“That area will just get worse. In the bigger and broader scheme, increasing the four-lane route of 50 east and west economically would have been a big boom getting traffic in and out of the Jefferson City area,” Benz said. “Companies look at access when they search for new places to build.”

Reporter Bob Watson contributed information used in this article.

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