Column: Raising the fuel tax can help Missouri’s road infrastructure from falling into disrepair

Despite its large size, Missouri’s highway system relies on one of the lowest gas taxes in the country.

Bryce Kolk is a freshman journalism major at MU. He is an opinion columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

We take our infrastructure for granted. From bridges to railways to sewer systems, infrastructure makes a modern society.

If we don’t maintain these systems, however, we risk losing them.

Missouri’s infrastructure grade sits at a C-, according to it’s score from the American Society of Civil Engineers. While slightly better than the nationwide grade of D+, it’s hardly worth gloating about.

In November 2018, Missouri voters shot down Proposition D, which would have raised the gas tax from 17 cents to 27 cents. The funds would have gone to the Missouri Highway Patrol to help cover some of our high priority infrastructure needs. This funding gap stands at $825 million, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

Proposition D also included a provision aimed at exempting Special Olympic, Paralympic and Olympic prizes from state income tax.

So what does a proposal for funding routine infrastructure maintenance have to do with olympic medals? Absolutely nothing, as noted by Missouri Rep. Mike Moon in a lawsuit against the proposal.

Proposition D failed, unsurprisingly, and left lawmakers scrambling to find funding.

In January 2019, Gov. Mike Parsons proposed borrowing $351 million in order to fund bridge repairs and replacements throughout the state. In the months since, many have criticized the proposal, calling for other methods of raising the funds. Some propose reallocating general revenue, while others favor an introduction of another gas tax proposal.

We have a very expensive problem.

Missouri lawmakers can borrow as much money as they want, but we will have to pay it back. It is not a long-term solution, and paying for infrastructure funding now will be cheaper than taking on unnecessary debt.

Our gas tax is woefully insufficient in addressing our increasingly fragile infrastructure. There are more than 4,800 bridges in need of attention, requiring $4.2 billion in funding, according to the ASCE.

Missouri ranks 48th in revenue per mile, according to the MoDOT. Missouri’s highway system is the largest among neighboring states and the seventh largest nationwide. Despite this, we have the lowest gas tax among our neighbors and the second lowest in the country.

This is too important, and too mundane, for the political games that proposition D encouraged. Missouri lags behind in infrastructure funding, largely because of its desperate need for a higher gas tax.

Some responsibility falls on MoDOT as well to market a new proposal to voters. To ensure it won’t fail, it is critical for voters to understand the implications of a “no” vote.

It’s time for Missouri’s drivers to pony up some cash for the roads and bridges many use and rely on everyday.

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