Two local legislators say a bill that would put a 1-cent transportation sales tax on the ballot for voters to decide may soon pass the Missouri House.
The House could vote as early as this week to pass the bill and send it to the Senate, said State Reps. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, and Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan.
The bill would not levy the tax, but just give the state’s voters a chance to decide whether they want to put the tax on the books for 10 years to improve transportation systems across Missouri.
Officials have estimated that the tax would generate about $7.9 billion over the decade it was in effect.
Of the money generated by the tax, 90 percent would go to the state, and the other 10 percent would be allocated to cities and counties.
If the bill passes, the state’s residents could vote on the tax in November, Schatz said.
There has been some opposition to the bill, including concerns that a transportation sales tax would hurt low-income residents.
But Hinson said the tax would not apply to food and medication, which, he said, are the big necessities for people with lower incomes.
Local officials have touted the tax as a way to fund the widening of Highway 47 between Washington and St. Clair.
Last year, a bill to put the transportation sales tax question to a vote of the people failed after it was filibustered in the Senate in the waning days of the legislative session.
Goal Is to Move Bill Fast
The goal this year is to move the bill earlier in the session, Schatz noted. A filibuster has less chance of success if it is attempted earlier in the session, he added. Hinson, who is the bill sponsor, agreed.
If it goes to the Senate this week, that will allow ample time for the bill to work through the legislative process, he said.
State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, is the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill.
Schatz said there was some commitment to pass the bill out of the House before the Legislature goes on spring break, which will be at the end of this week.
But Hinson noted that this week the Legislature could be consumed working on the budget.
If the budget is pushed until after spring break, then the transportation sales tax bill could pass the House this week depending on how many other bills are ahead of it, Hinson said.
Hinson and Schatz both think the bill will pass the House. The bill received 100 votes in the House last year, and it only needs 82 votes to pass this year.
This year’s bill is almost identical to last year’s, Schatz said.
Schatz noted that the bill received strong bipartisan support in the House Transportation Committee, which he chairs.
Even if the bill passes the House, it must still get through the Senate. Senate members who opposed the bill last year are still there, Schatz said.
Hinson said he thinks the bill will pass the Senate if it can get to a floor vote. He pointed out that the Senate passed the first version of the bill last year, but the second version was filibustered.
No one argues that more transportation funding is needed, Schatz said.
The transportation sales tax has done well in polling, Schatz said. But he noted that the polling was done prior to positive or negative campaigning about the tax.
Needed, Hinson Says
Hinson said he thinks the transportation tax is a good idea because the Missouri Department of Transportation is suffering from reduced funding.
MoDOT has seen major funding reduction for road and bridge work in recent years.
According to a MoDOT report, the agency had $1.3 billion in road and bridge funding in 2009 and $746 million in 2013. By 2018, it is estimated that MoDOT road and bridge funding will be $325 million unless additional revenue is located.
The funding reductions are due to the gas tax not being raised in 20 years, inflation and a loss of temporary funding, the MoDOT report states.
MoDOT is unable to maintain its current system due to the funding problems the reports adds. Missouri’s highway system is the seventh largest in the nation but ranks 40th in funding, the report says.
Fuel tax is bringing in less revenue as vehicles become more efficient, and federal funding for MoDOT could also be cut, Hinson said.
The only way to solve the funding problem is to come up with a new revenue source, he added.
The transportation sales tax bill requires the state highways and transportation commission to develop a list of priority projects so people would know how the money would be spent. Safety should be the top priority, the bill states. Each year a status report on the projects must be submitted to the Legislature and governor.