Two local state lawmakers say time may be running out to raise fuel taxes to fund Missouri transportation improvements, but the public will have the final say.
State Rep. Nathan Tate, R-St. Clair, along with State Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, have spent the summer visiting cities across the state as part of the 21st Century Missouri Transportation System Task Force.
Tate told The Missourian Monday there has been no final consensus, but the committee is leaning toward a possible 10-cent per gallon fuel tax increase to rehabilitate the state’s crumbling ransportation infrastructure.
“It’s a three-pronged approach,” Tate said. “The short-term would be a fuel tax voted on by the people.”
Tate said the long-term solution is still up for discussion and the third prong would be all encompassing, focusing on roads, rail, airports and rivers.
“Most people don’t use three of those forms every day,” he said. “I don’t want to be in the same situation we’re in now in 20 years. The two keys to growth are transportation and education.”
In the short term, both Tate and Schatz agree time is limited to capitalize on motor fuel taxes.
“With cars getting better gas mileage people are already buying less fuel,” Tate said. “Plus, car companies are looking more at electric cars, which means even less fuel purchased.”
Overall, Tate said the committee is running out of time to make their recommendation to the Legislature as a whole by Jan. 1, 2018, and he is hopeful he hasn’t wasted his time.
“When I was first asked to be on the committee, I asked if anything meaningful would come of it,” Tate said. “I have a day job and don’t want to be on a committee just to be on a committee.”
Tate’s fellow Franklin County lawmaker Dave Schatz is the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and held the same title while serving in the House.
Both legislators agree inflation will continue to play a large role in dwindling transportation funds.
The state of Missouri has not had an increase in the motor-user fuel tax since 1996 and the federal gas tax hasn’t gone up since 1993.
On the flip side, inflation has risen 64.6 percent since 1993.
“It’s simple mathematics,” Schatz said. “Transportation is Missouri’s largest asset and we have the seventh largest in the country. What does it cost to maintain that, and much less, add new infrastructure?”
Schatz explained as a business owner when he buys a piece of equipment it begins to depreciate just like transportation infrastructure.
“If you’re not reinvesting the depreciation continues,” he said. “Eventually, you get to a point you can’t afford to maintain what you’ve got or add new.”
The state Legislature could raise the fuel tax by a maximum of 2 cents without having to go to voters.
Increasing the fuel tax by that amount would generate between $60 million and $80 million.
Schatz said the 10-cent fuel tax would generate $400 million plus annually.
“Forty percent of that would be on the backs of nonresidents traveling through our state,” Schatz said. “Kansas, Kentucky and Tennessee have out-of-state travelers paying for their roads and bridges.”
Overall, Schatz, who is vice chairman of the task force, says the meetings have been helpful.
He said he and task force chairman State Rep. Kevin Corlew would be meeting with aides from Gov. Eric Greitens’ office on Tuesday to relay their findings thus far.