Missouri bills would increase taxes for road work

| Monday, April 23, 2007

Two transportation leaders in the Missouri statehouse have offered separate, but related, plans for how to pay for interstate highway improvements. Both bills would require voter approval.

House Transportation Committee chairman Rep. Neal St. Onge, R-Ballwin, has offered a bill that would increase taxes about $4.3 billion to help foot the bill for dedicated truck lanes on Interstate 70. The revenue also would be used to upgrade ports and boost public transportation.

A bill offered by Senate Transportation Committee chairman Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, would dedicate truck lanes on I-70 and Interstate 44. Associated improvements would be paid for through a 1-cent sales tax increase during the next decade. The tax increase would generate about $7.2 billion.

St. Onge’s bill – HB1237 – would increase the state’s per-gallon tax on diesel by 6 cents and gasoline tax by 4 cents. Both fuels now are taxed at 17 cents per-gallon.

The bill also would impose a 2 percent sales tax on fuel. Missouri would become the tenth state to levy the tax on fuel purchases. The general sales tax also would increase by half a cent.

In addition, license fees for personal and commercial vehicles also would be increased by $15 and $20, respectively.

The tax increases would sunset after six years but not before raising more than $4 billion, of which $3.6 billion would be earmarked for rebuilding and widening I-70 to eight lanes, The Kansas City Star reported.

The center four lanes would be dedicated truck lanes with eastbound and westbound traffic separated by a concrete barrier. A grass median would separate truck traffic from the outer four lanes.

Stouffer’s bill – SB310 – would expand I-70 and I-44 to eight lanes throughout the state with trucks also free to travel along two lanes, in each direction. Other vehicles would use the remaining lanes.

Stouffer said changes need to be made because truck traffic along I-70 is expected to increase by 700,000 in the next five years. Truck traffic along I-44 is expected to increase by 800,000 during the same time, he said.

“There is a tremendous difference between when I-70 was designed and where we are now,” Stouffer told the Jefferson City News Tribune. “We had warehouses – right now, we are ‘on-time’ delivery’ – requiring more trucks to assure that supplies reach manufacturing plants at the right times.”

Stouffer dubbed the legislation as an economic opportunity.

“These are major arteries – not just for Missouri but for the United States,” Stouffer told The Springfield News-Leader.

Missouri Transportation Director Pete Rahn is on board with the idea of separate lanes.

“I support any funding mechanism that will increase the resources available for transportation,” Rahn told the News Tribune. “You could list any number of ways to pay for our system, and I would tell you that I support it.”

The price tag for the improvements along I-44 is tabbed at $4 billion. Work on I-70 would run about $3 billion.

Stouffer’s bill is in the Senate Transportation Committee. St. Onge’s bill is in the House Transportation Committee.

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