Profiles in courage are increasingly hard to come by in the Missouri Legislature. There is no shortage of grandstanding, publicity stunts, or craven politics.
Sadly, responsible governance is routinely overshadowed by rigid ideology and politicians bent on personal gain.
That’s why it was refreshing to hear Mike Kehoe stump for a 1-cent transportation sales tax Thursday.
The Republican state senator and former Jefferson City car dealer is trying again to solve a real problem — finding a funding solution to improve our state’s transportation infrastructure. And he wants to do it through an unconventional (at least for a Republican) and unpopular way, by raising taxes.
No one disputes the state has a looming transportation infrastructure crisis. Experts have been warning lawmakers for years that funding for road construction projects was going to decrease around 2010.
At its high-water mark, the Missouri Department of Transportation spent around a billion and a half dollars a year on building and maintaining our state’s roads and bridges. That number has dwindled to about $700 million this year and will be around $400 million in the coming years if another source of revenue isn’t found.
The state has about 32,000 miles of highways and 10,400 bridges under its control making it the seventh-largest state-administered system in the country. But we rank approximately 43rd in the country when it comes to funding for transportation.
That’s not enough to maintain our existing transportation network let alone replace any deficient bridges or highways — of which we have many.
The solution is to find more revenue for transportation which ultimately means raising taxes. That much is clear. It’s unpleasant, but obvious. What isn’t clear is exactly how to do that.
Kehoe has introduced legislation which calls for a temporary 1-cent sales and use tax dedicated specifically to the transportation needs of cities, counties and the state system. It would raise an estimated $7.9 billion in new transportation funding over its 10-year duration.
The bill calls for 10 percent of the new revenue to be distributed to cities and counties for local transportation purposes. The tax would not be collected on medicine, groceries or gasoline, and would expressly prohibit any toll roads from being established on existing highways for the duration of the tax. If the bill passed the Legislature, the proposal would be placed on the November ballot for voter approval.
The bill has bipartisan support as well as opposition. Two local representatives, Dave Schatz and Dave Hinson, support the plan.
But Kehoe sponsored a similar bill last year only to see it die on the last day of the session after a group of fellow Republican senators killed it.
Kehoe knows he has another tough climb this year. The Republican-dominated Legislature is fundamentally opposed to any new taxes, or even a vote on a tax.
But give him credit for trying. Give him credit for having the guts to tackle a real problem instead of all the phony issues that have consumed his party over the past few years.
Give him credit for not being afraid to propose a tax increase to raise money for the betterment of our state because it’s the right thing to do.
Give the man credit for his courage.