Never shy about criticizing lawmakers when we disagree with them, we should take a moment to praise them for a proposal that, although unconventional, could finally get a long-stalled effort back on the road.
Everyone, including many Republicans such as Gov. Mike Parson, as well as the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, agrees that our state fuel tax of 17 cents per gallon isn’t getting the job done.
Missouri has the lowest tax on gasoline and diesel fuel purchases outside of Alaska but one of the largest road and bridge networks in the country.
Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, won Senate approval this week for a bill to raise that tax by 2.5 cents per gallon each year beginning this fall through 2025, when it would top out at 29.5 cents per gallon. It also would double the fee charged for cars and trucks powered by electricity or fuels not subject to the per-gallon tax, boosting the amount they would have to pay to help maintain highways and repair bridges.
The unconventional part is that this measure allows both individuals and companies to seek a refund of the additional tax if they disagree with it, so long as they keep records of their fuel purchases and file all the appropriate state forms.
In other words, we’ll tax you, but if you don’t like it you can get your money back (as long as you keep receipts and file for the refund), which lawmakers are betting will be too big a headache for many for the money they would get back. If you buy 1,000 gallons of gas each year, you’ll go to all that trouble to get back $25.
However, trucking companies and others might find the rebate much more lucrative and worth the fuss, and the danger is that they would not be paying the tax but the average driver would, which would be unfair. Because trucking companies in the past have supported fuel tax increases (recognizing the benefit to them), eliminating the refund to companies should be an easy compromise for the House to make.
Ideally, lawmakers should just raise the tax to the extent they are allowed to by law each year without triggering the public vote, but that’s not gotten any traction, either, so let’s try this.
The increase is moderate — Missouri’s motor fuel tax would still be below the national average — but it would raise about $51 million the first year and up to $103 million per year for each additional increment, to about $462 million annually when fully implemented, depending on refunds, according to the Missouri Independent.
We have questions about the whole tax-not-a-tax concoction, but given how long Missouri has been stalled on this question, we give it our endorsement if it gets us moving again.
By the way, one study concluded Missourians are losing $8 billion annually because of rough roads and damage to cars, fuel waste caused by congestion, and traffic accidents; for Southwest Missouri, the study put the cost at $1,500 annually per driver.
In other words, not raising the low motor fuel tax is actually costing Missourians money.
Not the first time that has happened.