COLUMBIA — The proposed three-quarter cent sales tax hike would fund a number of major transportation improvements in Columbia, including reconstruction of the Interstate 70 and U.S. 63 interchange.
Missouri Department of Transportation and local government officials outlined the goals of the sales tax to members of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce and the media at an informational meeting Monday at the Columbia Board of Realtors office.
The proposed transportation sales tax, which Missouri residents can vote on during the Aug. 5 election, would provide MoDOT with an estimated $5.5 billion to $6 billion in funding during its proposed 10-year lifespan.
The sales tax hike could provide MoDOT's Central District with an estimated $450 million, according to Columbia Community Development Director Tim Teddy. The Central district makes up Boone, Callaway, Howard, Cooper and Moniteau counties.
MoDOT representative David Silvester and Teddy said the department had gathered more than a thousand suggestions from residents and then narrowed those suggestions into two lists of 15 projects each. The lists divide the projects into two categories: "bridge and road" projects and "multimodal," otherwise known as nonautomobile, projects.
The three high-priority bridge and road projects the tax would help fund in Columbia are:
Teddy said another major project that fell outside the top three was an extension of Stadium Boulevard to Highway WW.
In the multimodal category, money would be allocated toward:
Teddy said the two lists of 15 projects will be confirmed later this week by a caucus made up of members from MoDOT's Central District.
"We're not asking, 'Are you happy?'" Teddy said. "We're asking, 'Can you live with this?'"
Over the past five years, Missouri's construction budget for roads and bridges has fallen to $700 million from about $1.3 billion annually. It is projected to dip to $325 million by the 2017 budget, according to MoDOT. Silvester said the department would need about $485 million a year simply to maintain the state's existing infrastructure.
Terry Ganey, representing Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions, and Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, presented the opposing and advocating sides for the measure, respectively.
Ganey said the best method of funding road improvements and maintenance would be through toll booths because they would act as a usage fee for those that drove the most. He also said a sales tax would effectively let the trucking industry, which does the most damage to roads, in his opinion, off easy, and the passage of the transportation sales tax would push the state sales tax to 10 cents per dollar spent in some cities.
"This will place a greater burden on local retailers," he said. "The local retailer, who competes with online retailers — who don't have to collect that tax — will be at a 10-cent disadvantage."
He also noted that the state hasn't raised its gas tax in more than 20 years. Missouri's gas tax is the sixth-lowest in the country, according to the American Petroleum Institute, and sits 15 cents below the national average. He said that increasing the Missouri gas tax to match the national average would produce roughly the same amount of revenue, which Silvester confirmed.
If passed, the transportation sales tax would prohibit increases in the gas tax and the implementation of toll booths during the transportation sales tax's 10-year lifespan. Kehoe called this a "safety measure" for voters.
Kehoe, a former Missouri Highway and Transportation Commissioner, said the two most important things about the tax are jobs and safety. He said the state has projected that more than 100,000 additional jobs would be created as a result of the extra funding and that the economic impact of the funding would be massive.
"This is not just a tax," Kehoe said. "It's an investment. It isn't going into a black hole. We have a list of projects, and it only lasts 10 years."
He added that groceries, prescription medication and fuel would not be affected by the sales tax.
The Republican-led General Assembly voted to send the measure to voters in May.
Gov. Jay Nixon has spoken out against the tax, saying that it was not "fiscally responsible to our infrastructure needs," especially as the Missouri legislature overrode his veto of a an income-tax cut earlier in the session, leading to a projected $620 million annual loss in state revenue. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill has provided her support for the measure, though she called it a regressive tax because it impacts the poor more than the wealthy.
There is also a provision in the proposal that allocates 5 percent of the total revenue toward incorporated counties throughout the state, split up proportionally by population. Teddy said Columbia would earn a fraction of that 5 percent, which would be about $7 million over 10 years. The money could only be used on transportation-related projects.