The leaders of the state House and Senate confirm that finding a way to pay for the needs of Missouri’s transportation infrastructure will be a priority in the 2016 session, but both say that won’t just mean talking about fuel tax increases.

Four-lane highway

A four-lane Missouri highway (photo courtesy; Missouri Department of Transportation)

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard calls transportation the most important and most talked about issue heading into the new session, but says the first challenge is admitting there is a problem.

“I’m not sure the regular person understands there is a need,” said Richard. “You see a few cranes once in a while, a few bridges being fixed, and people think that’s enough money.”

Richard said he can’t predict what funding solution the legislature will support, and whether it could be a tax increase.

“It could be but lets talk about it a while first, but the issue is not going to go away. We have an asset that needs to be looked at and cherished so let’s take one step at a time,” said Richard.

Senator Doug Libla (R-Poplar Bluff) has filed a proposal to increase the tax on motor fuel by one and one-half cents per gallon and on diesel fuel by three and one-half cents. At least two proposals in the House would also increase those taxes.

House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) said those won’t be the only ideas considered.

“As a legislature we’re pretty committed to holding the line on taxes. It’s something that most of us have campaigned on and most of us intend on fulfilling that campaign promise,” said Richardson. “We have a $27-billion budget and we have the ability to do some things within the budget to make that a priority.

Richardson said too much time has been focused on what the mechanism would be and not on making the issue a priority.

Attorney General and Democratic candidate for governor Chris Koster, at a recent forum, predicted that if elected governor he would still be dealing with the road funding issue.

“I don’t think anything is likely to pass in 2016. I don’t think a majority of the House is going to vote for a gas tax increase this year,” said Koster.

Richard said he believes something will get out of the legislature in 2016.

“Attorney General Koster doesn’t really have the inside track on what we’re going to do so I suggest let the legislative body do what we do and don’t speculate,” said Richard.