Dave Schatz brings a business perspective to his role as president pro tem of the Missouri Senate. The Republican from Franklin County understands that in business, you have to make investments to stay competitive.
Schatz has spent the past few years trying to convince his fellow lawmakers the same principle applies to Missouri’s roads and bridges. If we want to ensure our state’s continued economic viability and relevance, we need to increase our investment in its infrastructure.
That’s because our state’s roads are in bad shape and have been for years. A recent report found over half of Missouri’s major roads and highways are in poor or mediocre condition due to inadequate state and local funding. No one really disputes this fact.
Yet Missouri hasn’t raised its gas sales tax since 1996. Several attempts to increase funding in recent years have flamed out.
Schatz is making progress. His bill to increase Missouri’s current 17-cent-per-gallon tax on gas and diesel fuel by 2.5 cents annually for the next five years passed the Senate this week and is headed to the House.
His measure includes a rebate program where drivers could recoup some of the increase, and a phased increase in electric vehicle fees. It also creates the Electric Vehicle Task Force, which would analyze the impact of electric vehicles on transportation funding.
Schatz provided the leadership in negotiating the bill’s passage in the virulently anti-tax chamber. It wasn’t easy. The opposition was pitched.
“If we want to go back to gravel roads, that’s a solution — but I’m a forward-thinking business person, and I see the greatest asset we have in this state is our transportation,” Schatz argued. “I do think we can make improvements to it, but the only answer to the question is the motor fuel tax to increase the funding mechanism designed to maintain the system.”
Schatz is right when he says transportation is our state’s greatest asset. Business people and those tuned in to economic development appreciate this reality.
Missouri’s central location and extensive transportation infrastructure give us an edge over the competition. We have the seventh-largest highway system in the U.S. Yet at 17 cents a gallon, our state has the second-lowest gas tax in the nation behind only Alaska’s 14-cent-per-gallon tax. That is not sustainable.
Schatz’s proposal would generate more than $450 million per year to fix the state’s roads and bridges. It’s the kind of investment any business person wouldn’t hesitate to make to stay competitive. Common sense dictates you take care of what you have.
It’s the kind of investment many other states, including a number that border Missouri, have already made to be competitive.
It’s time for us to do the same. It’s time to apply some business sense to the issue.