A joint legislative committee on transportation heard a presentation from Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) Director Patrick McKenna this week.
McKenna took time to weigh in on the State of the Union address in which President Trump briefly outlined his infrastructure plan.
The President is proposing to spend $200 billion in federal money which would largely be used to incentivize $1.3 trillion in state, local and private investment on major projects.
The plan from the White House would require states and localities to “bring new revenue at a higher percentage match to secure federal funds”. McKenna thinks the plan, as explained thus far, offers new opportunities to obtain money for roads.
“I think innovation can be spurred,” said McKenna. “Investment can be introduced and incentivized on a nationally competitive basis, in a way that would be good for the country. What we’re focused on is what that means for Missouri.”
The split between federal and state funding under the President’s proposal would be a complete reversal of the current 80% federal-to-20% state contribution, meaning states would be required to supply most of the money.
The White House is planning to deliver a more detailed infrastructure plan than the broad strokes laid out in the President’s State of the Union address in mid-February.
The national highway trust fund is 70% financed by the national gas tax. For the past decade, general revenues have been used to plug the 30% gap. But Congress will now have to allocate that money as the Trump administration has indicated it won’t continue with the current arrangement.
National legislation in place known as the FAST Act (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act) will expire in 2021. If no action is taken to renew or replace the FAST Act, McKenna says there’ll be a $400 million reduction of road money available to Missouri.
He thinks the President’s infrastructure plan could be used to offset the shortage, but not without the state taking major steps. “That could kind of fill that gap, but only if we compete and only if we put more money in as a state to get it,” said McKenna.
It’s not known if President Trump’s plan will be used as the major supplier of road money moving forward, or if it will be used to supplement more robust funding from Congress.
McKenna says recent findings from a special legislative panel provide a path forward if the President’s proposal plays a larger role in subsidizing major projects.
“Exactly the recommendations that came out of the 21st Century Task Force, those are the dollar amounts we’re going to need to be able to pull down all the federal resources that will be available in this plan,” McKenna said.
The 23-member task force held meetings across the state after the 2017 legislative session and presented its report to legislative leaders last month.
Its chief recommendation is to raise the state’s tax on gasoline by 10-cents, and on diesel by 12-cents. The report says the increase would generate roughly $430 million a year for roads and bridges. The current 17-cent fuel tax was last increased in 1996.
According to MoDOT, Missouri ranks 46th in revenue per mile because it has the nation’s seventh largest road system that’s funded with one of the lowest fuel taxes in the country.
Another major component of the task force recommendations includes a 10% or greater hike to vehicle registration and driver’s license fees, as well as a doubling of registration fees for electric and hybrid vehicles.
Other suggestions include revising registration fees to be based on miles-per-gallon rather than horsepower, which is the current standard.
The task force also recommends that lawmakers consider legislation to allow for express lanes in metro areas, and for local authorization of major bridge tolling.
It further suggests that the General Assembly monitor pilot programs in other states that use mileage based user fees instead of gas taxes to generate revenue. The general thinking is that the fuel tax will have diminishing returns as electric power plants increasingly replace internal combustion engines on the roadway.
MoDOT Director McKenna released a statement following this week’s State of the Union address in which he indicated a need to boost road funding in Missouri.
“The Trump administration has issued a charge that sounds a lot like ‘show me the money’,” said McKenna. “The Show-Me State should do just that. It is time for action. Let’s get to work and invest in Missouri’s future.”