Gas tax plan would fund state roads

Two legislators warn of dire need to raise money to improve I-70
Friday, March 30, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:57 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A Republican legislative leader has introduced a bill calling for higher gas and sales taxes to renovate Interstate 70 and to accomplish other transportation projects.

House Transportation Chairman Neal St. Onge, R-Ballwin, introduced a bill Thursday that if approved by voters statewide in the August 2008 ballot, would generate more than $4 billion over six years to pay for the I-70 expansion along with the addition of truck only lanes and other transportation projects.

St. Onge’s plan would increase car license plate fees by $15 and commercial truck plate fees by $20.

He isn’t the only Republican in the General Assembly trying to increase taxes for transportation projects. Senate Transportation Chairman Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, proposed a 1-cent sales tax earlier in the session that would raise $7.2 billion from 2009 to 2018.

Under St. Onge’s proposal, the state fuel tax on gasoline and diesel would rise by 4 cents per gallon, up to 21 cents from the current 17 cents, and the state would begin imposing a 2 percent sales tax on fuel. The state sales tax also would increase by half a cent.

St. Onge is calling for all the new taxes to cease six years after they take effect. St. Onge said his bill would raise enough money to rebuild, widen and add truck lanes to I-70 across the state. It would also raise almost $50 million for state public transportation projects and allocate a large lump sum to pay for general state transportation work.

St. Onge said the separate lanes for cars and trucks would be a major selling point for voters. He said trucks account for nearly 40 percent of all traffic on I-70 and that those numbers will only increase.

“A lot of people say, ‘why are you doing this now?’ I think we need to start this dialogue and start this discussion right now,” St. Onge said.

The federal government has announced it will greatly decrease funding for the maintenance and repair of highways, including I-70, in late 2009 that has Missouri politicians beginning to consider how the state will cope.

“We will be down to a bare bones — if we’re lucky — maintenance program on our highways,” St. Onge said. “There will be no money for new construction, or new highways.”

Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, agreed that discussion needs to begin now about how best to maintain and rebuild the state’s highways.

“I’m not sure I’m strictly just for a sales tax,” Robb said. “We are in a situation where ultimately we’re going to have to take a very hard look at the infrastructure needs of the state. We’re going to have to come up with some new ideas.”

Bills introduced during the legislative session are rarely voted on or heard by the legislature, and St. Onge said he doesn’t expect his bill to get a vote this year. Instead, he wants to spend the next year educating Missourians about the future funding problems and the need for a tax increase.

“Already some of my colleagues have said you can’t have a tax increase,” St. Onge said. “But I don’t look at it as a tax increase. I look at it as an investment. We’re putting it before the people; this will not be done before the House or Senate.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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