Senator seeks boost in fee for billboards

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Billboard owners would see large fee increases under a state senator's plan to raise money for the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The price of billboard construction permits would increase sevenfold and biennial inspection fees would more than triple, according to legislation heard Tuesday by a Senate committee.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Morris Westfall, who also has proposed raising state sales and motor fuel taxes for transportation, said his latest bill is just one more way to raise revenue for the cash-strapped department.

The transportation department spends about $900,000 annually related to billboard regulation, but billboard fees generate just $150,000, said Marci Horton, MoDOT's outdoor advertising manager.

That means the difference must be taken from the same pot of money that funds improvements for roads and bridges.

Westfall's proposal would raise the state's annual revenue from billboard fees to an estimated $580,000, freeing up a little more money for roads and bridges.

"This isn't big money in terms of the state budget," said Westfall, R-Halfway, "but why should the people who drive the highways support the regulation of billboards" through their fuel taxes?

"It's more appropriate for the people who own the billboards to pay for it," he said.

Fees for one-time construction permits, now $28.50, would rise to $200. Biennial inspection fees, also $28.50, would rise to $50 in August, $75 a year later and $100 in August 2004.

The bill also encourages the state Highways and Transportation Commission to adopt a system for renewing permits for all billboards on a particular highway in the same month.

An industry group representing many larger billboard companies supported the legislation but a rival group representing small-time billboard owners opposed it. They said the higher fees would be harder for small businesses to afford.

Karl Kruse, executive director of the anti-billboard group Scenic Missouri, also expressed concerns over provisions that he said could allow more billboards with moving lights and cutout extensions.

Kruse led a ballot initiative two years ago that would have limited the number of billboards along Missouri highways. Voters narrowly rejected it in the November 2000 elections.

Missouri currently has more than 13,000 billboards.

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