Senate committee endorses $475 million transportation plan

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- In an important first step, a Senate committee endorsed a $475 million transportation tax increase that would go before voters in an August election.

The action Tuesday sends the legislation to the Senate floor, where a slightly larger transportation funding plan stalled in the final week of last year's session.

Heavy debate is expected again this year. But several key senators who opposed last year's bill are now backing this year's effort.

The question to them is, how much of a tax increase is too much?

"I think we're pushing the upper limits when we get to the $500 million mark, and we're just about there," said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, who is sponsoring the bill.

Westfall originally proposed raising an estimated $436 million annually by increasing the motor fuel tax 5 cents per gallon and the state sales tax by three-eighths of a percentage point.

His committee amended that Tuesday to a 6-cent-a-gallon fuel tax increase on a 4-3 vote during which one opponent was absent. Westfall said he expected the size of the fuel tax to be addressed again on the Senate floor.

As it stands, the legislation would raise Missouri's current 17 cent gasoline and diesel tax to 23 cents a gallon. The gas tax would be higher than those of all neighboring states except Nebraska, while the diesel tax would exceed those of all bordering states except Kansas and Nebraska.

The lone dissenter in Tuesday's 8-1 committee vote to endorse the bill was Sen. David Klindt, R-Bethany, who said afterward that he would oppose all tax increases.

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