WHAT OTHERS SAY: Missouri's roads need repairs, funding sources uncertain

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:11 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Missouri is finding there is no good alternative to growing the economy, adding new well-paying jobs and expanding the tax base.

This is particularly true when it comes to how to pay for such necessities as modern roads and bridges, which underpin the economy. The answer lies in spreading the costs now, then tapping into the growth in tax revenues in the future.

Our system for funding road upkeep and improvements has been broken for some time. And of this there is no doubt: Improvements are overdue.

We are not fans of one radical thought, which would be to save costs by simply turning hundreds of miles of state-maintained roadways over to local governments.

Rural residents almost certainly would see a cost shift that would disproportionately drive up their taxes and force reductions in their services. Either that, or the roads would deteriorate and these areas would be cut off from future economic growth.

The truth is much of northwest Missouri has promise today precisely because roads exist to connect our smaller communities to larger ones. Just as significantly, changes in communications and technologies have made our rural areas more viable — but only if they have adequate infrastructure, including safe roads.

One proposal floated in the legislature seems clearly insufficient. Estimates say this idea for raising the gas tax by 3 cents on every gallon, along with a higher tax increase on diesel fuel, would produce $180 million annually. But this would provide only about one-fourth of the money required in the coming years for road maintenance and improvements.

A cautious, divided state House has advanced a proposal to have voters approve a 1-cent sales tax increase that would generate $800 million annually for transportation during the 10 years it would be in effect.

The proposed constitutional amendment will be on the November ballot if the Senate goes along. Last year, in a similar scenario, it did not.

This past week, advocates for our region descended on Jefferson City to press our concerns, with transportation needs at the top of the list. Legislators heard about the penny sales tax proposal, ideas for tolls along Interstate 70 and possible increases in fuels taxes.

Hardly any of these options is appealing. Still, a solution is needed, it needs to be fair to rural areas and it needs to move forward soon.

Copyright St. Joseph News-Press. Distributed by The Associated Press.

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