Missouri state agencies see hit from rising gas prices

Monday, March 5, 2012 | 10:14 a.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Consumers aren't the only ones being hit by Missouri's rising gas prices — the state's government is feeling the pinch at the pump, too.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol needs more money for fuel, while other state agencies with employees who drive as part of their job, such as child welfare investigators, might have to make cuts to other parts of their budgets to pay for gas, the state's budget director said.

Rising gas prices have even hit the state's prisons and mental health facilities in the form of higher food prices.

The cost of gas includes Missouri's 17-cent-per-gallon gas tax, which stays the same no matter how prices fluctuate. But Sally Oxenhandler, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said MoDOT is seeing less tax money for roads and bridges because consumers are buying less gas. In each of the past 11 months, consumers have purchased less gas that month than during the same time the year before.

Oxenhandler said the revenue loss was one factor in the department cutting staff at several regional offices, and it cuts into how much work the agency can do on the state's roads and highways.

"We are doing less," she said. "Sometimes, there's a misconception that when gas prices go up, we get more money. Really, that fuel tax rate is a flat rate."

The squeeze on Missouri could become even tighter, especially if gas prices top $4 per gallon after Memorial Day, at the start of the summer tourism season. At a briefing with state lawmakers last month, Tourism Division Director Katie Steele Danner said rising gas prices could pose a "very big challenge" for the state as it heads into the summer.

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