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Transportation Department backs tax hikes

January 23, 2001
By: Nick White
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's Transportation Department announced Tuesday its support for a $650 million package of gasoline and sales tax hikes for road construction.

The bill would raise the gasoline tax by two cents per gallon and raise the general sales tax by one cent per dollar. The plan would be put on the 2002 November ballot for Missouri voters to make the final decision.

"Missouri must improve its transportation system," Transportation Department Director Henry Hungerbeeler told the committee. "Delay may seem palatable but doing nothing definitely increases the burden in later years."

Missouri ranks fifth-to-last of all states in transportation funding per mile, and this year the department said there will be a shortfall of $1 billion between available funds and what is needed by the state.

"More must be invested in rehabilitation and reconstruction," Hungerbeeler said, reading verbatim from a prepared statement. "How much more? More than $500 million a year. That could be provided by this legislation."

Hungerbeeler strongly asserted that the funding should be used for rehabilitation and reconstruction, not new construction.

As part of the proposal before the committee, Hungerbeeler's position would be turned into an elective office, on the statewide ballot every two years.

The Sierra Club and the citizens' group Missourians for Tax Justice both testified against portions of the bill saying they had objections to the sales tax increase.

"The bill would raise the unfair tax burden on low and middle income persons," Kathleen Carico, spokesperson from Missourians for Tax Justice, said, recommending a percentage surcharge on corporation taxes.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia, said earlier in the hearing that he was open to alternatives to finding additional road funds.

The discussion about funding alternatives began within hours after the committee hearing.

In an interview, the committee's Democratic co-chair -- Sen. Danny Staples, D-Eminence -- said he wanted the bill to include provisions for toll roads and toll bridges.

In addition to increasing funding for roads, the bill would reduce the amount of highway-related taxes that go to other departments.

Nearly 77% of Missouri's transportation funding came from motor fuel and sales in 2000, which translated to almost $900 million. MoDOT received more than $720 million last year, which was 62.2% of Missouri's transportation funds.