WHAT OTHERS SAY: Rejecting transportation sales tax would hurt Missouri

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | 4:09 p.m. CDT

The price tag is huge — $4.8 billion over 10 years.

Missouri shoppers’ sales receipts will show a substantial increase, as well — another 0.75 percent.

That is how much we will pay and the Missouri Department of Transportation will spend if Amendment 7 is approved by voters in the Aug. 5 primary election.

Yes, it’s big, but we believe the price is worth paying if the state’s roads, bridges and other transportation-related needs are met.

We see the projects promised for our region — improvements to U.S. 160 in Nixa, adding lanes from Willard to Interstate 44 in Springfield and resurfacing Missouri 76 and repairing its bridges in Taney County, to name just a few. They include ways to make our roads safer and more accessible, our airport better able to get more business, and our public transportation systems able to expand.

The truth is, without that money, we likely would not see any of those improvements. In fact, within a few years, we will see our roads and bridges beginning to deteriorate because there will not even be enough funding to maintain them.

A 0.75-cent sales tax hike is not the way we would have liked to see the state support its transportation systems. We would prefer a mechanism that ensures that those who use the roads and cause the most wear and tear on our bridges pay the most.

But the methods that would accommodate that have been rejected by Missouri voters and legislators over the years.

The state’s Highways and Transportation Commission has floated the idea of toll roads for at least two decades, but the efforts have gone nowhere. A look at the Will Rogers Turnpike in neighboring Oklahoma, especially after a snowstorm, gives us reason to wonder if toll roads are the best funding mechanism.

A gas tax increase is also less than palatable to voters, and with increasing fuel efficiency, Missouri and the country are seeing that source of revenue drying up. Congress is grappling with the same problem as the federal Highway Trust Fund nears bankruptcy. The House passed an interim fix, but some conservatives have argued that the federal government should not be in the road business — at all — and that the entire responsibility should fall on the shoulders of the states and local governments.

If that happens, Missouri’s roads will be in even worse shape.

Some Missouri residents have argued that the General Assembly has dropped the ball on transportation, that the legislature should fund needed road maintenance and expansions. It may be true that our legislature has steered clear of that path, but we believe that could be a good thing. By passing an amendment that clearly lays out what must be completed with funds from the tax, we have taken the politics out of the money pot.

In fact, it was local stakeholders — officeholders, business people, educators and others — who met with MoDOT to come up with the list, which includes projects deemed necessary to keep our roads safe and accommodate economic expansion.

Put another way, if it fails, it will hurt southwest Missouri’s growing economy. Our region will not be able to compete with St. Louis and Kansas City for the dwindling pot of funds. Projects such as I-70 between those two large cities will get done. U.S. 160 will not.

This is not the first time MoDOT has turned to voters for more money. Previous attempts have included raises in gas tax, sales tax, fees and tolls. After the state bypassed the voters in 1992 to raise the fuel tax a whopping 6 cents a gallon — only to abandon its promised highway plan six years later because of insufficient funding — efforts at the polls have been futile.

We hope that this year will be different, that voters will be willing to put their pocketbook interests aside — as it concerns paying an additional sales tax — and consider the interests of the community and the state.

The need for better, wider and safer roads is paramount to any business that uses them, which is pretty much every business, whether it uses the roads to transport goods and services or to get employees and customers to their doors.

A good transportation network is almost always on the top of the “must have” list for any businesses considering locating, relocating or expanding in a community. For example, John Deere Reman in Strafford recently partnered with MoDOT to share the costs to widen roads leading to the warehouse. Those roads led to jobs and more money in our region. The lack of improvements to U.S. 160 between Springfield and Nixa has had the opposite effect.

With a growing economy in southwest Missouri, we have a lot to gain from a robust transportation system and the most to lose if the voters continue to refuse to fund it.

Copyright Springfield News-Leader. Reprinted with permission.

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John Schultz July 22, 2014 | 5:18 p.m.

Vote no. MODOT should not be funding airport projects, sidewalks, and bike paths. State funding should go to state projects, not promising 10% to cities to fund projects to sway voters to support a bad plan. Get the federal government out of road building, increase the state fuel tax, and let the people that use the roads, pay for the roads.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 22, 2014 | 11:16 p.m.

John: The current federal tax per gallon is 18.4 cents for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel, and hasn't been increased since the Clinton administration (1993). The feds mostly rebate their collected revenue to the states, using some sort of formula.

It might make more sense if federal tax rates were increased, and I doubt the feds would allow their contributions to be used for certain of those things you've mentioned, but these days, who can tell.

With more fuel efficient vehicles there will be some decrease in state and federal fuel tax revenues. Since I traded vehicles my monthly gasoline expense has been significantly reduced.

The media will get excited when existing bridges and elevated highways (as in metro areas) start failing. That will definitely make the news.

(Report Comment)

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