Missouri Roads Face Funding Crisis - Sales Tax Initiative Best Possible Solution

on 19 February 2014

As transportation advocates prepare for another year of cuts and delays to critically-needed road projects, there is still hope that the Show Me State will get its transportation act back on the road.

The best hope is that the 2014 Missouri General Assembly will enact legislation to place a ballot initiative to raise the state’s sales tax by a penny to fund critical road and bridge safety improvements. If approved, the new penny tax would generate some $650 million a year for state transportation projects and about $72 million for repairs and safety improvements to city and county roads.

As it stands now, Missouri cannot take care of its 33,000 miles of highways without a new source of funding. The state’s transportation budget has suffered mightily from the impact of the Great Recession, with construction funding falling from $1.2 billion to less than $700 million in recent years.

Local Projects Suffer, Too

Budgets and forecasts for transportation maintenance and safety improvements are so weak that the Missouri Highways & Transportation Commission has stopped adding projects to its 5-year funding plan and recently suspended a cost-sharing program that matches private or public funds for highways and bridge projects that encourage economic development.

Should politics in the current session of the Missouri legislature kill any new funding proposals, a citizens advocacy group, Missourians for Safe Transportation and New Jobs, is prepared to launch a petition that would force the legislature to put the 1-cent sales tax solution to a public vote next November.

The advocacy group believes Missouri's voters should be able to decide whether to:

  • Increase funding for state, county and municipal street, road, bridge, highway and public transportation initiatives by increasing the state sales/use tax by 1 percent.
  • Prohibit increases in gasoline taxes.
  • Prohibit toll roads or bridges.
  • Exempt food and medicine from the sales tax and require it to be reapproved byvoters every 10 years.

Drivers Deserve Better

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce, the Missouri Farm Bureau, the Heavy Constructors Association and many other advocates of safer and better roads strongly support the one-cent sales tax solution.

“We believe that a dedicated statewide sales tax represents the best plan out there to halt the decline of Missouri’s transportation system and give Missourians a safe, convenient transportation network that will foster business growth and new jobs,” said HCA Executive Director Edward DeSoignie. “The 1-cent solution will not only create work for thousands of men and women in the construction industry, it will benefit all Missouri residents and businesses.”

Missouri’s desperate need for an infusion of transportation funding is clearly spelled out in MoDOT’s new 20-year transportation plan: A Vision for Missouri’s Transportation Future. At a November meeting of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission in Kansas City, MoDOT Director Dave Nichols noted that MoDOT had held hearings in 232 communities and developed a plan that addresses all modes of transportation, unlike previous MoDOT plans. Based on 12,000-plus suggestions, the four main points heard from the public were:

  • Take care of the transportation system and services we enjoy today.
  • Keep all travelers safe, no matter the mode of transportation.
  • Invest in projects that spur economic growth and create jobs.
  • Give Missourians better transportation choices (more viable urban and rural transit, friendlier bike and pedestrian accommodations, improvements in rail, ports and airport operations).

But in the executive summary of the 20-year plan, Nichols wrote that “without a funding solution, we will be hard pressed to even maintain the existing system. Between 2005 and 2009, funds made available by Amendment 3 allowed us to make significant improvements in safety. However, while that funding was temporary, the need to make safety improvements will only continue to increase.”