Missouri Senate backs fuel tax increases, possible P3

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 5/4/2015

The Missouri Senate could vote as soon as Monday to advance an amended bill to raise $200 million annually for roads and bridges.

Senators in the Republican-led chamber voted on Thursday, April 30, to make changes to a bill that would increase the state’s 17.3-cent-per-gallon fuel tax rate. The current tax rate has remained unchanged since 1996.

As amended, SB540 would increase the gas tax rate by 1.5 cents and the diesel rate by 3.5 cents. The introduced version called for increasing all fuel tax rates by 2 cents annually for three years and for regular adjustments tied to inflation thereafter.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, objected to the gas tax increase. Instead, he offered the revised formula that relies on truck drivers to foot more of the cost than motorists.

Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, accepted the change in an effort to avoid having the bill stall without coming up for a vote. The bill sponsor has said something needs to be done to help the Missouri Department of Transportation address an approaching funding cliff.

MoDOT Director Dave Nichols has referred to the state’s construction budget for roads and bridges that has fallen from about $1.3 billion annually in 2010 to $685 million one year ago. He added that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. The annual budget is projected to dip to $325 million by 2017 – the lowest since 1992.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association supported the effort to raise revenue for transportation in Missouri as it was introduced at the statehouse.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA director of state legislative affairs, said that the Association has withdrawn its support for the bill since changes were made on the Senate floor to tax diesel at a higher rate than gas.

He said the change is very problematic for small-business, professional truckers.

“Truckers are already subject to a number of taxes: Heavy Vehicle Use Tax, International Fuel Tax Agreement, Unified Carrier Registration, 12 percent federal excise tax on the purchase of new tractors and trailers, International Registration Plan, and a federal excise tax on the purchase of new tires, just to name a few,” Matousek said. “The majority of truck taxes – including those mentioned – do not apply to personal automobiles.”

A separate change made on the Senate floor calls for creating a board to explore the possibility of using a public-private partnership to charge tolls along Interstate 70.

Matousek said in terms of generating new revenue for transportation projects, tolling is the least equitable and efficient option while increasing the state’s fuel tax at the same rate for gas and diesel is the most equitable option.

OOIDA has encouraged state lawmakers to permanently prohibit toll projects throughout the state and instead consider realistic solutions.

If approved during a final Senate floor vote, the amended bill would advance to the House for consideration before it could head to Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk.

The Democratic governor called on state transportation officials late last year to take another look at the potential for toll taxes on I-70.

Nixon said that charging truckers and other drivers toll taxes would allow the state to get needed work done on the 250-mile roadway linking Kansas City and St. Louis and “free up resources for road and bridge projects throughout the state.”

The General Assembly has less than two weeks to agree on a road funding plan. The regular session is scheduled to end May 15.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Missouri, click here.

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