Committee considers continuation of fuel tax

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- As lawmakers gear up for this year's battle over new funding for the Missouri Department of Transportation, a Senate panel on Tuesday considered a bill that would allow the department to continue receiving some tax revenue it currently gets.

State Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, is sponsoring legislation that would remove the sunset provision from a 6-cent-per-gallon fuel tax the Legislature passed in 1992.

That portion of the state fuel tax, which at present totals 17 cents per gallon, is set to expire on April 1, 2008.

If the sunset provision isn't removed, MoDOT would lose an estimated $253 million from its construction budget during the first full year the tax was lifted.

With MoDOT officials clamoring for an additional $1 billion in annual funding, losing a portion of the department's existing revenue stream would force a further scaling back of road and bridge construction.

There was little discussion of this component of Westfall's bill when he brought it before the Senate Transportation Committee, which he chairs. The measure would also allow MoDOT to used different bidding procedures for select projects.

15-year plan funds

The 1992 tax increase was intended to fund MoDOT's ambitious 15-year plan, which promised four-lane highways to every town with at least 5,000 residents, among other things. The State Highways and Transportation Commission abandoned the plan as the financial blueprint for new road construction in 1998, saying costs exceeded revenue.

Westfall has a second bill that would let voters decide this November whether to raise taxes for transportation. He said the transportation committee will hear the bill, which would provide an additional $430 million a year for MoDOT, next week.

Over in the House of Representatives, state Rep. Don Koller, D-Summersville, and Speaker Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, are promoting an $800 million package to send to voters. Of that $640 million would be earmarked for transportation and $160 million for a school building fund.

Westfall's tax sunset repeal bill is SB 970.

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