High gas prices strain state agencies

Prices hurt heavy construction work, but help tourism.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:30 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — In addition to aggravating Missouri drivers, the price of gasoline is costing Missouri state government a lot of extra money.

According to the energy center at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, drivers are paying an average of 25 cents more per gallon this month than last. The energy center placed the current average price at $2.17 per gallon, an increase of 54 cents from this time last year. Diesel gas costs are rising even higher, with an average of $2.23 per gallon, a 43 percent increase from 2004.

Jeff Briggs, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said the agency is struggling to fill the tanks of its fleet of 4,000 vehicles.

“We use about 10 million gallons of fuel a year, and the high gas prices: we’ve got to pay them just like everybody else,” he said. “Each penny in increased fuel price costs MoDOT — costs the taxpayers — about $100,000 a year.”

At that rate, an increase of 54 cents per gallon from last year would cost the department an extra $5.4 million during the course of the year.

Briggs said contractors who do heavy construction work for the department are also dealing with higher costs.

“They pass those costs onto us in terms of higher construction bids,” Briggs said.

Briggs noted that the increased price does nothing to boost revenue from the state’s tax on motor fuels, which is fixed at 17 cents per gallon.

“Whether gas costs $1 a gallon or $5 a gallon, our revenue is the same,” Briggs said.

The Missouri Highway Patrol is another agency that burns a lot of fuel. Capt. Chris Ricks, the patrol’s spokesman, said the current budget allocates $1.60 per gallon for the highway patrol. That’s not enough, despite the fact that the patrol buys gas at wholesale prices.

Ricks said the patrol uses 1.6 million gallons of gasoline per year. A 10-cent-per-gallon increase costs the patrol an extra $167,000 per year. It deals with the higher cost by getting supplemental budget appropriations

from the legislature.

“If the price goes up, we can go back to the legislature and ask for a supplement again next year, which is what we had to do this year,” Ricks said, adding that, “there is no guarantee on that because the money just may not be there.”

Ricks said the patrol is trying to conserve fuel by having troopers sit with their engines off instead of driving on patrol.

“It is kind of like a fire department only sending one truck,” Ricks said.

In central Missouri, the average price of gasoline actually dropped a bit in recent days. The national Energy Information Administration, however, expects prices to remain at an average of $2.28 per gallon across the country.

Kristi Jamison, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Economic Development, said the fact that summer vacationers might travel fewer miles could prove a boon to Missouri because of its central location. She also noted that Missouri’s gas tax remains relatively low compared to other states.

According to the American Petroleum Institute, only four states have a lower tax than Missouri’s. Alaska is the lowest with a 12-cent tax; Hawaii is the highest with a 35.1-cent surcharge.

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