Senate considers asking voters to raise transportation tax
Thursday, April 11, 2002
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The state Senate began a long-expected debate Wednesday on a proposal asking voters to approve a nearly $500 million tax increase for transportation.
The debate itself -- coming five weeks before the end of the session -- marked a significant moment for the Senate, which last year waited until the session's final days to debate a similar bill that never came to a vote.
Senators also quit Wednesday without voting, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Kenney, R-Lee's Summit, said he would return to the bill later.
This year's plan would raise the state fuel tax to 23 cents a gallon, up from 17 cents. It also would raise the state sales tax by three-eighths of a cent to 4.6 cents on a dollar.
The proposal would appear on the August ballot and the taxes would take effect next January.
The money would go predominantly to the Missouri Department of Transportation for highway and bridge improvements, with a share for other modes of transportation, such as airports, light-rail, river ports and public transit. City and county roads also would get more money.
The proposal stops far short of meeting all of Missouri's transportation needs, which MoDOT has estimated would take an additional $1 billion annually. But sponsoring Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, said it pushes the limit of what voters might be willing to approve.
Opposition came primarily from Westfall's fellow Republicans.
Sen. David Klindt, R-Bethany, unsuccessfully sought to reduce the fuel tax increase to 2 cents, saying a higher tax would cause motorists to refuel in neighboring states. Sen. Larry Rohrbach, R-California, argued against the sales tax because it has no connection to the use of roads.
As it stands, the proposed tax increase would be the largest in Missouri history and would do more harm than help to economic development, said Sen. David Klarich, R-Clayton.
But supporters said just the opposite would be true.
"Our infrastructure in this state is crumbling, and if it crumbles, so will our economy," said Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia.
The legislation would give 70 percent to the state transportation department and the rest to local governments.
The sales tax increase would generate an estimated $257.3 million annually, 20 percent of which would go to other modes of transportation but most of which would be put in the state's general revenue account to offset the transfer of existing fuel tax revenues away from several agencies to the transportation department.