The 21st Century Transportation Task Force, a 23-member panel of lawmakers, state officials and other appointees, spent the past six months studying road and other needs at public hearings around the state. The panel's recommendations will now go to state lawmakers, who begin their annual session Wednesday, with hopes of putting a ballot measure before voters later this year.
Missourians would pay 10 cents more for each gallon of gasoline and owners of electric cars would see their registration fees double under a proposal to add more than $500 million annually to state transportation funding.
The 21st Century Transportation Task Force, a 23-member panel of lawmakers, state officials and other appointees, spent the past six months studying road and other needs at public hearings around the state. The panel’s recommendations will now go to state lawmakers, who begin their annual session Wednesday, with hopes of putting a ballot measure before voters later this year.
Missourians currently pay 17.3 cents per gallon in state taxes for gasoline and diesel. The recommendation for a 10-cents per gallon tax increase on gasoline and 12-cents per gallon increase on diesel would raise about $430 million annually for road needs, the panel’s report stated.
The current fee of $37.50 for hybrid vehicles and $75 for electric cars, paid in addition to other vehicle fees, would double under the task force plan. Other transportation needs, for airports, river ports and rail, could be supported by eliminating or reducing the timely filing discount for retailers on the state sales tax, the report states. Retailers currently retain 2 percent of the money received from consumers for sales taxes, or about $115 million annually.
The report also includes ideas to change the current system, based mainly on taxes paid at the pump, to one where registration fees would be based on fuel mileage or taxes charged at electric recharging stations. The idea is to keep funding tied to actual vehicle use on roadways.
“We are confident that a user-based approach is the way Missourians would go,” said state Rep. Kevin Corlew, task force chairman, at a news conference Tuesday.
The report does not recommend particular road projects, such as the long-discussed widening of Interstate 70 through Columbia, a project with a price tag of $3 billion to $4 billion. Instead, it speaks generally about the needs of the system. On the interstates, it stated, $300 million dedicated annually would pay to reduce congestion and improve safety.
The Missouri Department of Transportation maintains almost 34,000 miles of roads, more than double any of the state’s neighbors except Kentucky, which maintains 27,620 miles of roads. The current fuel tax is less than any of the surrounding states except Oklahoma.
If the task force’s plan is implemented, taxes in Missouri would be slightly above the average of the eight surrounding states.
Missouri is underfunding transportation by about $825 million annually, leaving safety needs unaddressed, allowing roads and bridges to deteriorate and stifling economic growth. The report won’t cover every need but will take care of a substantial portion, Corlew, R-Kansas City, said.
“The task force recognizes that is a sizable issue, a sizable problem that needs to be addressed,” he said. “However, we didn’t get to this place overnight and our recommendations don’t envision we will get out of that hole overnight.”
The proposal is the latest plan to address transportation funding, a problem that has eluded a solution for several years. A proposed three-quarter cent sales tax was defeated handily at the polls in 2014 and a federal allowance to impose tolls on Interstate 70 to support reconstruction and widening expired without action.
“This task force has been cognizant that of the ideas we put forth, we want to make sure they can be achieved,” Corlew said.
The task force included Gov. Eric Greitens but he has not endorsed its work. Pushing the plan through the tax-averse legislature, dominated by Republicans, will likely be difficult. Some task force recommendations, such as the higher diesel tax or a cut in the allowance for timely payment of sales tax, have been tried before but ultimately failed in the face of lobbying pressure.
Corlew said he hoped to have Greitens’ support and believes the arguments for the plan will sway his colleagues.
“We are going to be working toward that and we are going to be making the case to Missourians that this is the way, based on our hearings, to move our transportation system forward,” he said.
The report did not include a list of members that endorsed its findings. The final report includes four letters from task force members, three in support and one that criticizes it for failing to address urban needs.
Gwen Moore of the Missouri Coalition for Better Transportation wrote that the current use of resources put residents in cities and large towns at a disadvantage to rural areas. More than half of drivers and cars are in the 11 most populous counties, she wrote.
“In Missouri, urban taxpayers received only 35 cents on their transportation tax dollar,” she wrote. “Rural taxpayers receive $4.31.”
Moore asked for a distribution formula that would dedicate 80 percent of funds by congressional district and 20 percent to rural interstates.
The report drew praise from Missouri Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Dan Mehan.
“Today’s state transportation funding problems are well documented and the business community is increasingly concerned about this issue,” he said in a news release.