Road funds debate intensifies

A new campaign group argues an amendment would take money from social services.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:13 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — On Nov. 2, Missouri voters will decide the fate of a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would guarantee revenue raised by transportation-related taxes goes directly to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

Advocates on each side of the issue, however, agree the measure will be insufficient to significantly improve Missouri’s ailing roads, which federal highway statistics indicate are the third worst in the nation.

Supporters claim the measure is necessary to straighten out the tax code and restore credibility with Missouri voters, while a new campaign group organized against the amendment argues it would take money from social services and worsen Missouri’s road woes.

“It won’t fix the problems,” said Pat Martin, a former lobbyist who chairs No on Amendment 3, a coalition of social-service groups. “In fact, it will make them worse because it means more roads with not enough money to maintain them.”

The amendment was placed on the ballot by an initiative petition supported by transportation and business interests. It would phase out the practice of routing revenue from transportation-related taxes to state agencies that provide no highway-related services, instead using it to finance bonds to build new roads.

“We think they ought to address the real problem, which is maintaining the roads we already have,” Martin said. “When you build more and more miles of new roads, more problems pile up.”

The measure would incrementally increase the amount of money earmarked for transportation, from $60 million in its first year to $160 million in its fourth and final year, according to the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, which supports the measure.

While the extra money would have a relatively small impact on the transportation department’s $1.8 billion budget, supporters argue it is necessary to win back voters reluctant to trust an agency accused of squandering tax dollars and breaking promises.

“The people insist that we spend money intended for transportation on transportation,” said state Sen. Jon Dolan, R-Lake St. Louis, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. “People don’t trust the leadership. When they write that check they’ve figured out that half of it doesn’t go.”

Dolan sponsored a similar proposal in the last legislative session. He said the amendment is superior but represents only a small step in a larger plan to secure new revenue for roads through tax increases, toll roads and other methods.

“We’re going back to the people someday,” Dolan said. “Interstate 70 will not be rebuilt without a new revenue plan. We will not go from worst to first without a higher gas tax, but it’s reform first, revenue later.”

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