The head of the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) hopes a ballot measure to increase the motor fuel tax is approved by voters and is used on crucial projects.
The measure itself was challenged in court. A three-judge panel in the Missouri Court of Appeals-Western District in Kansas City dismissed a lawsuit from a conservative activist and a Republican state lawmaker who wanted it taken off the voting ticket.
Ron Calzone and GOP state Representative Mike Moon of Ash Grove had claimed Proposition D, as it’s labeled, violates state law by failing to meet certain requirements including a stipulation that all ballot measures pertain to a single subject. The appeals court reaffirmed a circuit court judge in mid-Missouri’s Cole County who also had dismissed their lawsuit.
If the ballot measure is approved by voters, the state’s motor fuel tax would be raised from 17-cents to 27-cents per gallon by 2022.
MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna contends the hike simply makes up for the rate of inflation since the motor fuel tax was last increased in 1996. “Even though it doesn’t solve the entire problem, it trends us in the right direction across the board,” McKenna said. “It’s really useful in the way that we can purchase construction in the way that we could back in 1996.”
MoDOT has pegged the state’s high-priority unfunded annual transportation needs at $825 million. The motor fuel tax increase, when fully implemented, is projected to provide $288 million in additional resources annually to MoDOT for use on roads and bridges.
Another $123 million would flow to cities and counties for local road maintenance and improvement. About 30% percent of the motor fuel tax is sent to cities and counties, with an even split of 15% distributed to each one.
Missouri has the 7th largest transportation system in the country but ranks 46th in revenue per mile. The reason the system is so large is that the state has long taken care of county roads that are named after letters in the alphabet.
Missouri has a lower fuel tax rate than any of its nine neighboring states except Oklahoma. Oklahoma maintains 12,257 miles of highway while Missouri manages 33,856 miles. Both states tax gasoline sales at 17-cents per gallon although Oklahoma’s levy on diesel is three cents less than Missouri’s.
According to data from 2016, the busiest portion of Interstate 270 in the St. Louis area carries 198,800 vehicles per day and is the most well-traveled stretch of roadway in the state. McKenna says I-270 is in the worst condition of any highway in Missouri and needs attention quickly because of the amount of freight it carries.
“We have over 500 million tons of freight that move on that facility each year valued at about $700 billion,” said McKenna. “So, the current condition is it requires immediate work.”
Proposition D includes a component to establish a dedicated fund for certain road projects in order to reduce traffic bottlenecks that affect freight. McKenna says three projects are at the top of the list as needing swift action – I-270, the I-70 bridge across the Missouri River at Rocheport in mid-Missouri and the Buck O’Neal Bridge in Kansas City.
“Those three projects affect every Missourian, whether you live near them or not because of their value and connection to the rest of the nation and to the movement of goods throughout our state,” said McKenna. “These are vital, vital very large projects and we need to get going on them.”
Efforts in recent years to raise money for roads have been met with public resistance. A 2014 sales tax ballot measure was rejected by voters. There’s thinking that this year’s proposal which targets those who use the roads through the fuel tax will be more acceptable to voters.
The ballot measure actually boosts funding for the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s oversight of motor vehicle laws and traffic regulations.
The same source of funding is used by the Department of Transportation (MoDOT) to address roads and bridges once the Highway Patrol’s budget needs are met as required by the Missouri Constitution.
The ballot measure will ask voters to weigh in on a third issue beyond the motor fuel tax and the fund to reduce traffic bottlenecks that affect freight. They’ll be asked if they want to exempt Olympic (as well as Special Olympic, Paralympic) prizes from state taxes. The three measures were lumped together and passed as a single bill during the final days of this year’s legislative session.