The state Senator who has championed measures in recent history that would increase Missouri’s gas tax doesn’t plan to file one this year. Poplar Bluff Republican Doug Libla tells Missourinet it’s the House’s turn to bring forward a way to help fund repairs of the state’s roads and bridges. Last year, his measure passed in the Senate, but did not make it to the full House for consideration.
“In my opinion, the Senate has done its job. It sent a plan to the House and they decided they didn’t like our plan. So I’m still patiently awaiting what their plan is,” says Libla.
Libla reached a compromise last year with other colleagues in his chamber on a proposal involving a 5.9 cent increase. The bill also would have asked Missourians for their blessing to increase the tax.
Libla still thinks a gas tax increase is the best option. Since 1924, Missouri has helped fund maintenance for its roads and bridges by way of the state’s motor fuel tax.
The last time Missouri’s fuel tax was increased was in 1996. The state has one of the lowest gas taxes in the nation – 17 cents per gallon. Libla says Missouri is using 20th century transportation funding on 21st century needs.
“It defies logic, to me, for anybody to think that we can maintain the roads and bridges we need for safety and commerce at the same level that we had in 1996,” says Libla. “Cars and pickups get a lot better fuel mileage nowadays. In my research over the last 10 to 15 years minimum, has been that the motor fuel purchases in our state have been relatively flat. Although the cost of keeping our roads repaired and asphalted and overlaid has more than tripled.”
Libla says the funding issue is not just a state problem.
“The reason why it’s a national problem is the movement of goods of services across the center of the United States. Not everything starts and ends in Missouri,” says Libla. “So lots of trucking companies, goods and supplies that people need on the east coast, west coast and in between, move through Missouri. We’re so far behind [in transportation needs] that it’s causing bottlenecks in interstate commerce.”
More than 800 of the state’s bridges are in poor condition with about 60% of those beyond their lifespan.
What’s it going to take to help solve the Missouri Transportation Department’s infrastructure needs? Libla says he hates to answer that question.
“I worry every day. I’m worried about school buses going to little basketball games somewhere taking kids home in a school bus. I worry about a bridge collapsing and they don’t know it,” says Libla. “I’m worried about the highways that don’t have paved shoulders on them yet because we don’t have the money to do it and people lose control of their cars. You know, we’re great reactors in the United States of America but we’re not real proactive.”
State lawmakers generally agree that Missouri must increase its transportation funding, but some disagree about how to help pay for those needs.
“I guess I don’t understand what the fog is,” says Libla. “Everybody is always trying to figure out ‘we know how important our roads and bridges are. We just have to figure out how to pay for them.’ We already have a way to pay for them. It’s a motor fuel user tax.”
Libla says general revenue in the state budget has never been used in Missouri to fund the state’s transportation costs. The money collected from the fuel tax goes into a special fund and highway commissions and planning commissions determine what projects the money will be used for.
He says as much as 50% of the revenue generated from the tax is from non-Missourians who are traveling through, stopping to eat and spending money.
St. Joseph Republican Senator Rob Schaaf is proposing this session to ask voters if the fuel tax should be increase by 3.5 cents on diesel and 1.5 cents on all other fuel. His measure would change part of the state Constitution that gives funding for lettered state highways and transfer control and maintenance responsibilities of those highways to county highway commissions.