In less than two weeks, Missouri voters will be asked to approve Prop D, a gasoline tax increase that is estimated to generate millions of new dollars for the maintenance of the state’s roads and bridges.
If approved, the gas tax, which is now 17 cents per gallon, will increase by 2 cents per year over the next four years, maxing out at 27 cents per gallon in 2022.
Although this is the first time the gas tax question is being put directly before the voters, the idea is by no means new.
In fact, legislation suggesting the same type of increase was filed this year in the General Assembly by Republican State Sen. Dave Schatz of Sullivan.
“It’s basically our bill,” Schatz said. “The one thing different this time is we have a governor and lieutenant governor who are on board. They are traveling the state promoting this. We’ve not seen that in the past.”
Senate Bill 734 had many of the same provisions and also had the caveat of statewide voter approval. The bill was passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee, which Schatz chaired, and was placed on the formal calendar for final passage where it died.
“Nobody likes to pay more taxes, but this is an issue of basic economics,” he said. “The gas tax has been the same since 1996. Inflation is real. Nobody could live today on the same wages as in 1996 and they can’t expect transportation to do it either.”
Schatz added there are more cars on the roads since 1996, causing even more wear and tear.
“More people are driving and the roads are deteriorating more quickly,” he said. “We have more maintenance to do and less money to do it. Without more money to do it, guess what, people are going to get less services.”
Filing of the bill and the idea for raising the gas tax also was bolstered by the findings of the 21st Century Missouri Transportation System Task Force that traveled the state in the summer of 2017.
The task force was designed to produce suggestions to face the state’s transportation and infrastructure problems, and came to the conclusion an increase in the gas tax would be the key in a three-part remedy.
State Rep. Nathan Tate, R-St. Clair, also was a member of the task force and serves on the House Transportation Committee.
The task force learned that long-term funding neglect and shortfalls have left the state with approximately $825 million worth of unfunded transportation priorities annually.
Missouri’s fuel tax rate was last increased by the Missouri General Assembly in 1992, when it was incrementally raised over four years to 17 cents per gallon.
According to the Missouri Department of Transportation, the largest source of Missouri’s transportation revenue is from the federal government.
That is primarily derived from Missouri’s share of the nation’s 18.4-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline and 24.4-cent-per-gallon tax on diesel fuel.
It also includes various highway user fees and other grants. The federal fuel tax last changed in 1993 when 2-cent increments were phased in until 1996.
Revenues also are received from state sources. The largest source of state revenue is from the state’s 17-cent-per-gallon fuel tax.
MoDOT also receives a 9-cent-per-gallon tax on aviation fuel and a share of vehicle and driver licensing fees, as well as sales and use taxes on motor vehicle purchases and leases.
Fuel tax, license fees and motor vehicle sales tax revenue may only be used on the state’s roads and bridges, per the Missouri Constitution.
If passed, this measure will generate at least $288 million annually to the State Road Fund to provide for the funding of Missouri state law enforcement and $123 million annually to local governments for road construction and maintenance.
The Prop D amendment will require the state auditor to audit the state’s use of the revenue generated by these taxes every two years.