Missouri voters to decide on $5 billion road plan

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 5/15/2014

Missouri voters will soon decide whether to tax themselves to raise $5.4 billion during the next decade for transportation work.

The House voted 105-43 on Wednesday, May 14, to approve a scaled-back plan to raise about $534 million a year in new revenue for roads and other transportation programs through a three-fourths-cent general sales tax. However, the tax wouldn’t be applied to groceries and prescriptions.

Senators previously approved House Joint Resolution 68 on a 22-10 vote after trimming one-fourth cent from an earlier version.

The change required one final House vote before clearing the way for the proposed constitutional amendment to be included on the November general election ballot. Gov. Jay Nixon can elect to push up the date that voters decide on the tax question.

Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, said the effort is intended to be proactive.

“We’re just hoping that we don’t get to the point where it is absolutely affecting daily drivers, where it’s ‘oh my gosh, we’ve got to do something. The sky is falling,’” Hinson said during House floor discussion.

Dave Nichols, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, released a statement on Wednesday thanking lawmakers for giving voters the opportunity to improve the state’s economy and keep the driving public safe by investing in transportation improvements.

“We are working with planning partners around the state and representatives from every mode of transportation to determine how this new revenue could best improve our total transportation system,” Nichols stated. “We are ready to deliver the projects and services that Missourians expect and deserve.”

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 this year.

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.

If approved by voters, the tax would kick in starting Jan. 1, 2015.

About $4480 million annually would be used for highways, transit, ports, airports, and bike and walking paths. The remaining $54 million a year would be split between cities and counties for local projects.

Voters would decide in 10 years whether to extend the tax for another decade.

A protection was included to prevent revenue from the tax being diverted away from transportation.

State lawmakers would also be prohibited from increasing the state’s 17-cent-per-gallon fuel tax or charging highway users to drive on existing roadways without voter approval.

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