The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Carthage, Jasper County

April 26, 2010

Group looks at state sales tax to fund highway construction

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Funding for highway projects in Missouri will take a nose dive over the next two years to less than a third of what it has been, leaving only enough to maintain the existing system.

On Monday, about 30 people attended a Missouri Transportation Alliance meeting in Carthage to hear from the private, grass-roots organization about what might be done to restore that funding.

Jewell Patek, spokesman for the alliance and a former state representative from Chillicothe, told those attending the meeting that $700 million to $750 million will be required annually to fund highway projects that are needed across the state.

Patek said the money would be in addition to the $426 million the Missouri Department of Transportation will use annually just to maintain the state’s interstate highways and the secondary highway system.

1-cent sales tax

Patek said a 1-cent sales tax statewide could generate the $750 million annually. The money also could be raised via a sales tax of a lesser amount and an increase in the fuel tax, he said.

“These projects will not be completed without new revenue,” he said. “What we must decide is how we will pay for these projects.”

Funding for highway construction and maintenance in Missouri from all sources totaled $1.9 billion in 2009. That funding level will drop to $426 million annually by 2014. State officials say Missouri needs almost $1 billion a year to finance its highway projects.

Those attending the meeting were asked to fill out a questionnaire about whether they would support an increase in transportation funding, including a sales tax increase.

William Martin, a Jane resident who attended the meeting, said he would support a fuel tax increase and “a sales tax on vehicles, auto parts and tires, but not on groceries. The sales tax would have to be related to transportation. I do not support a general sales tax because it will hurt other groups (such as cities and counties) that depend on their sales tax.”

Gib Garrow, head of the Neosho Area Chamber of Commerce, said: “I think a fuel tax and sales tax combination would be the best way to go. But the sales tax should not be on groceries and essential needs. It should also have a five-year sunset clause on it.”

Garrow said the sunset provision would allow voters to decide whether the tax measure should be renewed.

The state fuel tax in Missouri is 17.6 cents per gallon; the federal tax is 18.5 cents per gallon. The Missouri tax has not changed since 1992.

Patek said the fuel tax has become a problematic source for funding. With vehicles becoming more fuel-efficient, the tax is not generating more revenue while usage is increasing.

Patek also said toll roads are an unlikely source of funding in Missouri because only a few places near Kansas City and St. Louis have enough user volume to make a toll road feasible.

Priority projects

Over the past two years, the alliance has gathered information about the projects in each part of the state that have been identified as priorities. In Southwest Missouri, the conversion of U.S. Highway 71 into Interstate 49 and the completion of the Bella Vista (Ark.) bypass in McDonald County are among the top priorities.

Attending the meeting was Dan Salisbury, with the regional office of the Missouri Department of Transportation in Joplin. Salisbury said the conversion of Highway 71 into an interstate is moving forward with the construction of four interchanges with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Action on the Bella Vista bypass is dependent on the state of Arkansas, he said.

Salisbury said another highway that needs attention is the Highway 60 corridor in Newton County. Passing lanes are being constructed on that highway, but a four-lane highway is what is needed, he said. Another key project is the construction of a bypass on the west side of Joplin, he said.

Patek said the public meetings held by the alliance show that Missourians want to maintain the existing system and make it safer. They also are willing to spend money on infrastructure projects to promote economic development and job creation, he said.

Patek said 2012 will be the next reasonable opportunity to put a transportation tax proposal on the ballot in Missouri.



Miles

Missouri’s primary highway system, including interstate highways, consists of 5,600 miles that carry 75 percent of all highway traffic in the state. There are about 28,000 miles in the secondary road system, which carries 25 percent of the state’s traffic.

Source: Missouri Transportation Alliance

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Carthage, Jasper County