Highway funding

Amendment 3, which will be on the Nov. 2 general election ballot, is a fairly complicated rewrite of part of the Missouri Constitution that has a simple aim: more money for highways and transportation.

Most Missourians are familiar with the plight of the Missouri Department of Transportation dating back to an ambitious plan to upgrade hundreds of miles of the state's highways. Funding for that plan was to come from increases in state fuel taxes, but it didn't take long to figure out the increasing costs of roads and bridges wasn't going to be met by the extra fuel-tax revenue.

Tight highway funding

MoDOT has continued to maintain and add roads and bridges, but not at the pace envisioned when fuel taxes were being increased. How to get more revenue has been a key topic among highway officials and state legislators for years -- a topic not helped by an economic slump and super-tight state budgets for the past few years.

Taxpayers also have had a keen interest in highway funding, sharpened by the fact that a portion of revenue from fuel taxes and motor-vehicle fees has been diverted to other departments. In fiscal year 2004, a total of $197 million went to other state agencies, including $134.5 million to the Missouri State Highway Patrol and $58.5 million to the Department of Revenue.

The highway patrol's portion of the revenue is supposed to be used for administering and enforcing motor-vehicle laws and traffic regulations. But it has been difficult to determine how much this costs, considering the highway patrol is engaged drug enforcement, murder investigations and many other non-highway activities.

The revenue department's portion was intended to cover the cost of collecting the fuel taxes and other fees for MoDOT.

Millions more for highways

Proponents of Amendment 3 -- a coalition statewide business groups and those promoting more money for highways -- believe millions of dollars could be added to meet MoDOT's needs, including additional revenue to pay off bonds for construction projects, by the changes contained in the amendment.

But the diversion of funds would not be ended, only more tightly regulated.

The highway patrol would continue to get a portion of highway revenue for the "actual cost" of administering and enforcing highways laws and regulations. How those costs would be determined has yet to be settled.

And the revenue department would still get some of the highway money for the "actual costs" of collecting the highway revenue, but not more than 3 percent after next July 1.

The diversion of highway funds needs to be addressed. It will be up to the proponents of Amendment 3 to convince a majority of Missouri's voters that this amendment accomplishes that goal.

If revenue currently going to the highway patrol and revenue department is allocated instead to MoDOT with Amendment 3, the legislature would be left with figuring out how to fill the funding gaps in those two departments -- either by finding the money from other sources or looking for cost-cutting in those areas.