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Joint committee to look at highway funding

March 09, 1999
By: Edward Klump
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A proposed sales tax increase to finance highway construction is expected to be reviewed by the legislature's joint committee on transportation this afternoon.

The committee meeting was called after the Transportation Department director told the committee that $1 billion a year is needed for the next 20 years to complete most of the projects in the department's original 15-year plan.

The plan, adopted along with a gasoline tax increase in 1992, was abandoned last year by the department because of insufficient funding.

Henry Hungerbeeler told the committee that only about 21 percent of the plan has been completed.

He proposed a $608 million per year funding plan that would complete only 77 percent of the plan by the year 2020.

After hearing that report, the committee's chairman Sen. Danny Staples, D-Eminence, said he would propose a half-cent sales tax increase to fund repairs of multi-lane highways.

Staples said that while the tax increase is a possibility, he'll have to see if the committee wants to raise more revenue.

"I'm for moving forward," he said. "But I'm just the chairman."

Other members, however, were more hostile to the tax-hike idea.

Sen. John Russell, R-Lebanon, said the department's latest proposal doesn't help its reputation.

"Their credibility is shot all to heck when they started abandoning the 15-year plan," he said. "When they get back to it, maybe they can get back to the voters."

Although Staples would like increased revenue, Russell and other committee members predicted little chance.

"I don't know what the committee will do, but I don't see the possibility of a tax increase," he said.

Sen. Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia, said Missouri eventually will have to do something about its poor roads. He said the Transportation Department's latest presentation reinforces how bad the problem has gotten.

"It continues to show just how far Missouri has fallen behind in its transportation needs," he said.

Hungerbeeler told the committee that while the 15-year plan is still the focus of the department, it's impossible to complete. He said the department is currently under a rolling five-year plan and has adopted many ideas from the old plan.

And while some lawmakers aren't sure a tax increase is needed, Hungerbeeler said it's something that should be done.

"As a citizen I don't like tax increases, but this one seems to be fairly painless considering what I'd get in return," he said.

With spring break looming next week, Staples warned his members that today's meeting was the last chance to get something moving for this year's legislative session that adjourns in mid-May.