A dramatic drop-off in transportation funding is looming, but as state lawmakers consider their options they are hesitant to mention one word.

The word is “tax”. It’s a word that state lawmakers have been loathe to utter before the recession, let alone now.

State Transportation Director Pete Rahn has warned lawmakers that transportation funding will soon drop from $1.5 billion dollars to $421 million, which would end the ramped up construction the past few years which has vastly improved Missouri roads and bridges.

“What we are doing, we believe doing our job well prepares the ground well for something in the future,” Rahn has told members of the Joint Legislative Committee on Transportation.

Perhaps, a tax increase?

Sen. Wes Shoemyer (D-Clarence) tries to coax Rahn into campaigning for a tax increase.

“We’re just trying to see if you will do our jobs for us,” Shoemyer jokes when responding to Rahn. “You know, we don’t want to have to go out and do that. It’s not very popular.”

Rep. Tom McDonald (D-Independence) picks up the theme, only he does mention the word and suggests our gas tax isn’t high enough.

“I know that’s an unpopular topic with almost everybody in the state, but as technology comes along, higher mileage (vehicles) or even to the point where gasoline is not going to be a necessity, it seems to me that the (fuel) tax should be at least comparable to surrounding states,” McDonald tells Rahn.

Missouri has one of the lowest fuel taxes in the country. Of Missouri’s neighboring states, only Oklahoma has as low a fuel tax as Missouri, at 17 cents a gallon. All of the other surrounding states have higher gas taxes, some considerably higher. Missouri has been using money leveraged from Amendment Three approved by voters in November of 2004 and, lately, money from the federal economic stimulus act approved by Congress to finance road and bridge construction. The money generated from bonds issued from Amendment Three has nearly been spent. Federal stimulus money will soon end and even traditional federal highway funding is being reduced.

No one on the Joint Transportation Committee, though, seems ready to suggest a tax increase to keep road construction going, leaving the question Rahn poses in his annual report, “Where do we go from here?”, unanswered.

Brent Martin reports.