By Eli Yokley
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. —
The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission has proposed a 1-cent sales tax increase to fund improvements to the state’s transportation infrastructure.
As designed, the tax would be administered over the next decade and would aim to raise a projected $7.9 billion. The tax would not be applied to medicine, groceries or gasoline, the commission said.
The plan would dedicate $1 billion to improving Interstate 70, which runs across mid-Missouri, from Kansas City through St. Louis, while splitting $5.15 billion in different regions in the state — including more than $768 million for Southwest Missouri, according to the commission’s report.
The proposal was presented Thursday at the Missouri Conference on Transportation in Jefferson City by Rudy Farber, a Neosho banker who is chairman of the Highways and Transportation Commission.
“It would create jobs, make roads safer, reduce commuter congestion, stimulate economic activity and create a more competitive Missouri,” he said.
The conference was put on by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which is offering general support to proposals that would invest in the state’s infrastructure.
That support may prove crucial as advocates seek backing from legislative Republicans, many of whom campaigned on the promise that they would not vote to raise taxes. Under the Missouri Constitution, any proposal to increase taxes has to be put before a vote of the people. The highway commission called on the General Assembly to pass legislation to at least allow voters to consider the proposal.
“What we are asking the Legislature to do is to allow the citizens of Missouri to vote on whether they wish to tax themselves on transportation,” Farber said.
Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and Rep. David Schatz, R-Sullivan, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, both appeared at the news conference, and neither spoke against the proposal.
The commission concluded that despite Missouri’s comparatively low gas tax, an increase in sales tax is simply a more effective way to raise revenue as automobiles continue to become more fuel-efficient.
Earlier this week, House Speaker Tim Jones began a public push with Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, and Rep. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, to pass a bonding proposal through the General Assembly to fund infrastructure improvements.
The proposal — which is being carried in the Senate by Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia — focuses more on “vertical infrastructure,” Kehoe said. It would create a dedicated fund to improve and build new structures for state universities, hospitals and even the Capitol building in Jefferson City.
Gov. Jay Nixon has not yet weighed in on specific transportation funding proposals, but the topic could emerge Monday when he delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly.