Missouri lawmakers who passed the incremental gas tax increase in 2021 did so when fuel was less than $3 per gallon.
Yes, the issue had gone to voters a couple of times in the past and failed.
But crumbling highways and bridges and a need to attract new business to the state spurred lawmakers to make a tough call -- increase the state gas tax incrementally by 2.5 cents per gallon despite previous votes, or face further infrastructure decline.
The News Tribune reached out to candidates for the Missouri House of Representatives 59th District seat this week to get their takes on the new gas tax and other top issues leading up to the Aug. 2 primary. There is no Democrat running for the office, so the winner of the primary will win the seat.
Incumbent Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, voted in favor of the bill creating the tax. He doesn't regret it, but keeps an open mind about what will happen with the tax in the future. He added when the price of gas goes up, its use decreases, reducing revenue.
"The cost for the highway department is going up like it is for everybody else," Veit said. "Our roads continue to deteriorate at a fast pace."
He added he's sympathetic for people concerned about the effects the gas tax has on their bottom lines. But, he is aware highways and roads continue to demand much-needed maintenance and repairs. As with all bills, should one concerning a repeal or temporary halt on the tax come to the House chamber, he'd look at it carefully.
"I am gravely concerned about the price of gas," he said. "We need to put all the pressure we can on the federal government to again make us energy independent. It may mean more reliance on fossil fuels for the time being."
Veit's challenger, George Bacon of Jefferson City, said he's pretty certain his views reflect those of most of his constituents in the 59th District.
Voters rejected a gas tax twice before, but "someone" passed a tax "regardless of the wishes of the people."
"Like my constituents, I hate spending $90-$100 every time I stop at a gas station," Bacon said. "In a situation like this, I think a true representative of the people would ask for their opinions and feedback, and not just pass it against their wishes."
The only true solution to creating lower gas prices, he said, is to revisit U.S. oil production and refining processes, and import options, he said.
"I would remind my constituents that not all of the recent price increase is because of the gas tax," Bacon said, "and that some of the gas tax money is earmarked for road and infrastructure improvement, as well as Highway Patrol and other state workers' salaries. I am, however, curious to see if that money is actually being spent as intended."
Veit said the federal government can set a goal of energy independence, and the manufacture and use of bio-diesel and ethanol can help in a move toward independence, while supporting Missouri's agriculture industry.
The newly shaped district (before this year's changes) included the westernmost parts of Jefferson City, western and northern parts of Cole County and stretched down into northern parts of Miller County.
Under the new maps, it still includes part of Jefferson City (south of U.S. 50 and west of Commerce Drive), but the remainder of the district is now the rest of Cole County (excluding the majority of Jefferson City). The district had already included Centertown, Lohman, Russellville, St. Martin and Wardsville, but now also includes St. Thomas. (See the district map at https://www.sos.mo.gov/CMSImages/Elections//Maps//House_District_59.pdf.)
It no longer contains St. Elizabeth in Miller County.
Voters elected Veit to the seat in 2018. He retained his seat in 2020, when he ran unopposed. He is an attorney. He and his wife, Jeri, have four children and six grandchildren.
Bacon is a retiree from construction and nuclear energy industries who lives in Jefferson City with his wife, Mary. They have two children and four grandchildren.
He said a debate over transgender athletes has remained focused mainly in the Blair Oaks School District.
"That debate has not ended -- at least not with the locals I have spoken with," Bacon said, "and I do expect it to continue. And surely it will bleed into the other schools. They say you can't please all the people, and this is a prime example. I don't think this issue is settled yet."
The school district's Policy 2115 allows transgender students to choose a name and pronoun by which to be identified and to dress according to their gender identity.
It also allows all students to use restrooms that are gender-neutral, aligned with their "biological sex" or aligned with their "self-identified gender." It also outlines Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) rules for transgender athletes.
The News Tribune pointed out to Bacon that MSHSAA already has policies in place to protect fairness in athletics.
Bacon responded, "In the preamble to the 2020 Missouri Republican Party Platform, it says: 'We believe government governs best when it governs least.' However, when these transgender athletes, especially those going from male to female, can dominate a sport they participate in, I have to wonder if they don't have an unfair advantage."
He also said students who use bathrooms for the sex with which they identify, rather than that on their birth certificates, is problematic.
"There's no quick and easy solution for this. Maybe creating separate bathroom facilities is the quickest, cheapest and easiest alternative," he said.
Veit and Bacon essentially agree on questions of transgender athletes competing in high school athletics.
"What I have seen is it is unfair to allow a male to compete in a female sport and put females at a disadvantage," Veit said. "Sometimes, we have to deal with our own challenges in life -- and society may not be able to accommodate those."
Bacon said he worries Critical Race Theory (CRT) -- a social movement based on the belief that race has played a role in development of society, politics and the law in the United States over the centuries -- may be a tool some use to poke "embers of racism, bigotry and prejudice."
"I know things are not perfect, but I was around in the '60s, and I can promise you it's better now than it was back then," Bacon said. "We still have a lot of work to do, but I don't think teaching CRT to school students is the solution, and I would propose keeping it that way."
Veit said, "If there's Critical Race Theory ... being brought back up, I want it to be done in statutory form. And to not attempt to amend the constitution. (In statutory law) once we pass something, we see the consequences. We can then make changes if necessary."