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Missouri House briefly considers gas tax to help repair infrastructure

by Joe Gamm | May 9, 2019 at 5:05 a.m. | Updated May 9, 2019 at 11:17 a.m.
A man pumps gas at a Jefferson City station. (News Tribune photo)

Missouri representatives briefly considered adding a 1-cent gas tax early Wednesday afternoon to a small omnibus taxation bill, but the amendment's author withdrew the idea before it came to a vote.

The proposed amendment, by state Rep. Steve Butz, D-St. Louis, to the House version of Senate Bill 174, titled "Taxation of Income" - would have added 1 cent to Missouri's current fuels tax of 17 cents.

SB 174 already would reauthorize the Public Safety Officer Surviving Spouse tax credit until Dec. 31, 2027; change taxation rules for specific older aircraft; exempt interest received on deposits held at federal reserve banks from adjusted gross income; change some definitions for transportation corporations; prohibit penalties for certain late 2018 income tax payments; change rules concerning telecommunications fee charges; and allow Higginsville, Odessa, Lexington and Springfield to submit to voters a transient guest tax.

The proposed gas tax would have helped pay for debt that our children are going to be faced with, Butz said.

Butz said freshman lawmakers should go back and look at the 21st Century Missouri Transportation System Task Force, whose study evaluated the conditions of the state's transportation system and outlined challenges to the state's transportation funding. The task force released its report to the state in January 2018.

A possible solution to some of the state's transportation woes the task force looked at was the return of about 7,000 miles of roads to counties, which turned them over to the state in the 1950s.

The task force found Missouri's current transportation system - the highways and bridges - cost $55 billion in user fees over the years and would cost more than $125 billion to replace.

The report repeats the key Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) facts that Missouri's state-owned highway system, at 33,884 miles, is the nation's seventh-largest state system, and its 10,394 bridges is the sixth largest.

It's a busy system, carrying Missourians and visitors to the state more than 50 billion miles per year.

The proposed 10-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase over five years that voters rejected last year came from recommendations by the task force.

The House-Senate budget conference committee has modified Gov. Mike Parson's bonding plan to repair 250 mostly rural bridges around Missouri. Under the proposal, the state would spend $50 million from general revenue to repair or replace 35 of those bridges, then sell bonds to pay for the work on the other 215.

State Rep. Kip Kendrick, R-Columbia, a member of the Conference Committee on Budget, said during debate over the 1-cent tax Wednesday that it would help pay a debt the bonds would leave for the next generation. Down the road, when the bonds need to be paid, that money would likely come out of education funding, he said.

"We have the ability to make sure we're collecting this (tax) not just from Missourians, which will happen," Kendrick said. "We have the ability here to increase our gasoline tax - a user fee - and make sure we are collecting them from people who are passing through this state."

All of the tractor-trailers that pass through the state and damage the roads are necessary. The state needs the truck traffic, he said.

The tax would help repair infrastructure.

"This is a very good way to pay for it," he said. "There will be an economic downturn. Higher education and K-12 education will likely take the hit to pay for the bonds."

During Tuesday's Conference Committee discussion of highway funding issues, some lawmakers complained MoDOT can't even study whether toll roads would be a good alternative for transportation funding. Others on the committee said budget language would allow for such a study but would prevent MoDOT from trying to design or build a toll road.

MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna told the News Tribune: "We don't have either the statutory or constitutional authority to impose tolls in the state of Missouri. So, with so many needs out there - while I certainly do agree that tolling is a legitimate option to solve specific problems in transportation infrastructure - I don't see a lot of study in our immediate future, when I need to deploy that money on projects that I can produce (and) are in our constitutional bonds today."

News Tribune reporter Bob Watson contributed information to this article.

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