Legislators Seek New Answers as Sales Tax for Transportation Fails - The Missourian: State News

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Legislators Seek New Answers as Sales Tax for Transportation Fails

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Posted: Saturday, August 16, 2014 2:00 pm

Missouri legislators are already looking for other solutions to funding problems following voters’ defeat this month of a transportation sales tax.

State Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, who sponsored the bill to put the three-quarter-cent transportation sales tax on the ballot, said he expects there will be a more “scaled back” option for transportation funding brought to the Legislature in January.

It would only be for roads and bridges whereas the transportation sales tax would have been for many different types of transportation.

The scaled-back version would probably be a Band-Aid approach whereas the transportation sales tax would have gone toward building new infrastructure, Hinson said.

He does not know what the new option may look like but said there are ideas being tossed around by many states.

One thing he took away from the transportation sales tax effort was that people are more supportive of a user-fee approach rather than a sales tax, Hinson said.

Moreover, he said he never heard anyone say that improvements are not needed to the state’s roads and bridges.

The hope is that a new funding option can be developed to at least stabilize MoDOT’s funding, so the agency does not lose money, he said.

Some states are trying different approaches, Hinson noted. Virginia replaced its 17.5 cents per-gallon fuel tax with a tax based on the wholesale price of fuel.

Another option is to put a flat user fee on vehicles, he said, noting that this has been looked at by the state of Washington.

There is also a pilot program in Oregon where people are charged for the miles driven, which is recorded by a computer chip. But that could face resistance in Missouri, where voters have shown that privacy is a top concern, he said. Hinson said miles driven could also be recorded through the vehicle inspection process.

With the fuel tax generating less revenue with more efficient cars and the federal government not providing a consistent stream of funding, many states are facing funding challenges, he said.

State Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, supports making budget cuts to pay for road improvements.

He thinks enough cuts can be made to come up with the more than $500 million a year that the transportation sales tax would have generated.

And Curtman does not think services would suffer as a result.

He suggested that the state do an infrastructure audit, which may uncover buildings the state owns but does not need.

There should be fiscal discipline to ensure there are no redundancies in state government, he said. For instance, Curtman said in 2008 that the state consolidated maintenance programs and saved $74 million a year. That money should have gone to roads, he said.

The Legislature budgets broadly, allowing the executive branch to spend money in ways that were not intended, he said.

There should be a “tightening down” of the governor’s ability to be extra flexible with the way money is spent, Curtman added.

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