The Missouri Senate passed a bill Tuesday to raise the tax on diesel by 3.5 cents per gallon and the tax on other fuels (including good old unleaded) by 1.5 cents per gallon. This is after an earlier Senate push to raise the tax by 2 cents per gallon died for lack of support. The vote on this bill was 18-13, with 11 GOPers voting yes and 13 voting no. The JeffCo delegation was split. Paul Wieland, who represents district 22 in northern and central JeffCo, voted no, while Gary Romine, who represents the southern part of the county (along with five other counties) in district 3, voted yes.
Romine, who is in my view does the best job of all JeffCo legislators of communicating online with the public (including a robust Facebook presence and individualized weekly updates), discussed this issue three weeks ago in a column. While he did not state how he would vote, he insinuated how he felt:
A combination of factors has led to MoDOT facing a mere $325 million budget for Fiscal Year 2017—millions shy of the minimum the department needs to draw down all available federal funds and maintain our state’s transportation infrastructure in its current condition. So how did we get here and what are the options?
Rather than a single problem, a perfect storm of circumstances has led to MoDOT’s funding situation, including: a diminishing fuel tax revenue stream as vehicles have become more fuel-efficient; a fuel tax rate that has remained stagnant for nearly 20 years; decreased purchasing power due to inflation; and rising costs of industry staples like asphalt, concrete and steel.
This week, the Senate began debating SB 540, legislation that would raise the motor fuel tax by two cents a gallon (from the current 17 cents to 19 cents), effective January 2016. If passed, the increase is expected to bring in $55 million for MoDOT. While the measure doesn’t provide a long-term solution, it would allow the state to match all of its anticipated federal funds for 2017. In addition, the extra revenue would provide support for our river ports, something that would certainly benefit the 3rd District.
I haven’t heard any recent specifics from Wieland on this. He discussed the Senate’s general thinking on the issue with KJFF two weeks ago. During the campaign last year, he told the Leader that “I would never support a gas tax unless it was brought up to the people to vote on.”
Opponents of a gas tax hike cite a recent audit that found that MoDOT spent $7 million from the road fund for expenses unrelated to road maintenance as a reason to oppose a hike. They also point out that voters rejected a sales tax hike for roads last August. In addition, some prefer toll roads as a transportation solution.
I am personally not opposed to a small gas tax hike such as this. As Romine points out, the gas tax (5th lowest in the nation) has not been raised in 20 years. There’s also matching federal funding to be obtained. In addition, road funding is a government service we can all agree is legitimate, and a gas tax means the roads are funded by those who use them. I opposed the sales tax hike because it would not have impacted big road users such as truckers, and because some of the proceeds would have gone to mass transit. I think the gas tax is the proper way to fund roads.