Missouri lawmakers propose one cent sales tax to fund transportation projects

The tax could raise $7.8 billion annually, but some view other bonds as higher priorities.

Missouri lawmakers proposed a decade-long one-cent sales tax increase to fund state transportation projects on Feb. 4.

Rudy Farber, chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, originally proposed the increase in January. He joined Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Crystal City, Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, and Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, at a news conference near construction on U.S. Highway 50.

Supporters of the increase said the tax could generate $7.8 billion annually and sustain more than 250,000 jobs.

The proposal includes setting $1 billion aside to add westbound and eastbound lanes on Interstate 70 between Wentzville and Independence.

Ten percent of revenue would go toward local cities and counties to address road, rail, transit, aviation, waterway and other transportation issues.

The sales tax would not apply to groceries, gasoline or medicine. It would prohibit building new toll roads and increasing fuel tax during the 10-year period. After 10 years, voters could decide whether to extend the tax.

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission would be required to create a list of specific projects and denote how money would be spent before the bill appears on a ballot. If voters passed the tax, the commission would generate an annual report for the governor and legislature.

“There’s nothing tricky that we’re trying to hide here,” Kehoe said at the conference. “We’re strictly trying to take monies needed for infrastructure investment and put them to work in our state so we can continue to expand.”

Missouri transportation officials have said funding for Missouri highway construction fell from $1.2 billion to less than $700 million in 2012. According to an Associated Press article from 2006, now-former Transportation Department Director Pete Rahn warned the annual highway construction budget would drop as due dates for bond payment for previous projects approached in 2010. Federal economic stimulus stunted the decline until last year.

Hinson filed the sales tax bill in the House with more than a dozen co-sponsors. He said the lack of funds results from a decline in returns from the gas tax.

“We have seen a decline in the gas tax due to fuel-efficient vehicles and people driving less in this economic climate,” Hinson said. “This is a funding source to improve our highways statewide, not just in bigger cities like St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia and (Jefferson) City, but in rural areas, too. Everyone knows that we have transportation needs across the state of Missouri and we can’t rely on the federal government to send funding our way. We have to take care of it ourselves.”

According to the Associated Press, Missouri voters have not passed a statewide sales tax in 25 years. Voters have also rejected higher excise taxes, including a tobacco tax.

A bonding package for college campus and state facility construction might compete with this bill.

Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he supports the bill as long as it does not detract funding from other causes.

"The bill would provide more money, not just for the state, but for the cities and counties. So Boone County and Columbia would get more roadways," Kelly said. "I'm in favor of it, but not at the expense of mental health and higher education. If it's roads to the exclusion of everything else, I'm not fine. But roads are a vital part of economic development, so if higher education and mental health are still funded, I support it."

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