Missourians may finally see some much-needed road infrastructure improvements. The Legislature has passed the first gas and diesel tax increase in over 25 years. The state currently has one of the lowest tax rates in the entire country.
The state House of Representatives joined the Senate in favor of increasing the user fee by 12.5 total cents over five years. The plan would also give most drivers the choice to hold onto their receipts and turn them in to apply for a rebate if they don’t want to pay for the amount of the increase.
Another provision would increase annual fees on electric vehicles by 20 percent per year over a five-year period. The plan would also create a taskforce to study the impact electric vehicles have on the state’s transportation funding. The bill could raise about $500 million annually to help fund Missouri’s roads and bridges.
“This bill provides much-needed funding for road and bridge repairs, and we are excited to move forward on these critical infrastructure projects,” Parson said in statement.
When the legislation is fully phased in, the average passenger car driver traveling 12,000 miles annually is expected to pay an extra $1.30 per week. For pickups, the average increase is projected to be less than $2 per week.
Missouri’s fuel tax of 17 cents per gallon has not been increased since 1996, despite having the seventh-largest highway system in the nation.
“I don’t know how much longer we can keep kicking that can down the road,” said Republican Rep. Becky Ruth, who helped craft the legislation. “We have an opportunity to invest, make an investment in our roads and bridges, help economic development, bring jobs here and make roads safer.”
“We need to raise your taxes for this purpose, the money will be well spent and all of us will benefit greatly from that,” Rep. Steve Butz, D-St. Louis said.
“The potholes on I-70 are embarrassing and they are once again unsafe,” Rep. Brenda Shields, R-Buchanan County. “I happen to think if I swerve to the right or the left, I’m going to catch the pothole that’s between the edge of the road and the shoulder or the one that’s running down the middle of the lane.”
Others were not supportive. Representative Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka, did not vote on the bill saying the increase is not a conservative principle.
“If this is conservatism, then I’m Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Mary, and all the queens that have ever been on earth,” she said. “When I think of a rebate, I think of a used-car salesman. Sorry if there’s any used car salesmen here in the House. But when you go in to buy a used car, or a car in general, you see rebate in big, bold letters, and it says $5,000 rebate if you buy this car. If you’ve been in sales at all, you know the price is just jacked up a little and you don’t really get a rebate. They just want to make you happy and send you back a check. It’s just a bunch of baloney.”
Bailey did not have a solution to fix the state’s crumbling highway and bridge infrastructure.
Tax increases are unpopular among Missouri voters. Since voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1996 requiring all tax increases over a certain amount to go to a statewide vote, not a single general tax increase has passed. The last attempt in 2018 failed and proponents say roads have been crumbling ever since.
Some say that passing the increase will allow the state to forego at least some of the Biden infrastructure bill that comes with significant strings attached to it.
The next stop for the bill is Gov. Mike Parson’s desk. Parson has voiced support for increasing infrastructure funding in general.
–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice