Missouri lawmaker offers alternative to I-70 tolls

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, March 08, 2012

A Missouri state lawmaker is pushing a first-of-its-kind effort that would change how the state collects revenue for transportation purposes. Voters would need to sign off on the change.

So far this year at the Missouri statehouse, talk about transportation funding has centered on whether to authorize the state Department of Transportation to partner with a private group to pay for improvements on the mostly rural stretch of Interstate 70 linking Kansas City and St. Louis.

MoDOT officials say working out a deal for the 250-mile freeway would free up more dollars for transportation needs elsewhere.

Intended as an alternative to handing over to a private group the state’s biggest infrastructure asset, Rep. Thomas Long, R-Battlefield, has introduced a bill that would change how the state collects taxes to benefit transportation.

“We have had a one-sided debate on funding infrastructure in Missouri,” Long told Land Line. “I believe most reasonable people agree we have to figure out a different way of funding infrastructure. Fuel taxes are a declining revenue source. It is a flat tax on a product that is declining. It is not a good way to go.”

Long, who is vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee, wants to eliminate the state’s excise tax applied to gasoline. The state’s tax on diesel would be increased by a dime to 27 cents per gallon.

Missouri now applies a 17-cent-per-gallon tax on gas and diesel purchases. Despite having the nation’s seventh-largest road and bridge system, the tax rate is the fourth lowest.

In exchange for abandoning collection of the excise tax on gasoline, Long wants to rely on the state’s sales tax for road and bridge funding.

His plan would apply a 0.07 percent sales tax on gas purchases and add 0.07 percent to the state’s general sales tax rate. All revenue would be routed directly to transportation.

Long, who is a fleet manager for Prime Inc. in Springfield, MO, said that the bulk of the projected $400 million annually that would be generated through his plan would come via the increase to the general sales tax.

He said the state needs to rely less on the gas tax, which he described as a declining revenue source. Instead, tying fuel prices to inflation through the sales tax would allow revenue to grow as the economy grows.

“The change would get us away from the every-now-and-then fight over whether to increase fuel taxes.”

If approved by lawmakers, voters would get the final say.

Long said the process to get a long-term transportation funding solution through the statehouse is likely going to take at least a couple of years. During that time he said lawmakers and their constituents will need to be educated on the issue.

“I want people to understand that you get what you pay for.”

The bill – HB1874 – is awaiting assignment to committee in the House. Long said he anticipates holding a hearing on the bill before the session adjourns in May.

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

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