Missouri Democrats push for fuel tax holiday

| Friday, August 26, 2005

With the price at the pump reaching all time highs, some Missouri Democrats are proposing a little relief.

Democrats in the state’s House say they’ll ask Gov. Matt Blunt to expand the agenda of the special session that begins Sept. 6 to include a two-week fuel tax holiday. But a Blunt spokesman said he would not do so.

In recent days, the price of diesel in the state has been above $2.40 a gallon with gasoline topping $2.60 a gallon in some areas. To help consumers, lawmakers want Missouri’s 17-cents-a-gallon tax on diesel and gasoline to be temporarily reduced to 7 cents a gallon.

“I’m just like everybody else,” House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, told Land Line. “I’m tired of paying high gas prices. This is a way to give consumers, businesses and truckers immediate relief at the pump.”

A tax holiday, however, would cut into the revenue from the fuel tax. The tax is used to pay for road and bridgework in the state.

Harris said the direct revenue loss would be about $18 million, but he said drivers from neighboring states and over-the-road truckers who come into Missouri to fill up would offset the loss.

“We believe it would be a revenue neutral proposal,” he said.

Blunt, a Republican, doesn’t appear too keen on the idea. Jessica Robinson, a spokeswoman for the governor, told the Columbia Daily Tribune the proposal is a “risky scheme that could jeopardize vital, ongoing transportation projects in our state.”

The Missouri Department of Transportation also is leery of the Democrats’ plan.

Spokesman Steve Porter said the proposal “would hurt our ability to provide the road and bridge improvements we’ve promised to taxpayers. The state fuel tax is the only tax that Missourians pay that goes entirely to road improvements.”

Porter said a two-week, 10-cent fuel tax exemption along with a permanent fuel exemption for school districts, as detailed in the legislative proposal, would result in the loss of $13.8 million for “vital state highway improvements.” Cities and counties would lose $5.3 million to improve local roads and bridges.

If the governor opts not to add the proposed tax holiday to next month’s legislative agenda, Harris said he would consider bringing the matter up again when lawmakers return to the capitol for the regular session that begins in January.

“If (fuel) prices continue to be a hardship for hardworking Missourians and Missouri businesses, we’ve got to look at ways to address it. This is one possible way,” Harris said.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor