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Tax Hikes Heard

March 07, 2001
By: Jennifer Ginsberg
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - One day after Gov. Bob Holden unveiled his package of tax hikes for highways, a House committee heard testimony on a number of alternative funding plans.

These plans are similar to the transportation plan that Gov. Holden introduced on Tuesday.

Like Holden's plan, the measures before the legislature would give the governor and legislature more control over the Highways Department -- which supporters call making the department more accountable.

"Accountability comes before funding, if the wheel is broken, fix it, then fund it," said Rep. Bradley Roark, R-Springfield.

The House Transportation Committee will be writing a substitute bill this week which will combine the best of all the bills, Holden's plan and ideas from the general public, said committee chairman Rep. Don Koller, D-Summersville.

Rep. Gary Wiggins, D-New Cambria, is one of the many lawmakers who has proposed a plan to raise taxes for highways and mass transit. His plan will bring $747 million into Missouri to pay for the state's growing transportation needs. Wiggins said his plan will be phased in over five years.

The plan would increase the motor fuel tax from 17 to 19 cents per gallon and the sales tax rate on tangible personal property from four to 4.75 percent.

Fifty percent of the revenue raised by Wiggins' plan would go to fund state highway projects, while the rest of the money will fund public transit systems, multimodal transportation projects and the rehabilitation of the interstate system.

Rep. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, has a similar plan that will bring in $539 to the state.

Bray's plan would involve a quarter of a cent increase on the state sales tax, which includes all taxable items but not food. If a consumer purchased something for $20, this new tax would add four cents to that purchase.

This plan also increases license, title and permits and registration fees for highways by 50 percent and would increase the tax on diesel and regular motor fuel by three cents per gallon, to be phased in over three years.

Bray's plan also allows for increasing the size of the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission to include one member from each of the nine congressional districts.

Other lawmakers, such as Rep. Larry Crawford, R-Centertown, have included sections which would allow the governor to appoint a Secretary of Transportation, which would replace the existing Director of Transportation.

Crawford's plan not only proposes a constitutional amendment for a Secretary of Transportation, it would also replace the existing Highways and Transportation Commission with a bipartisan advisory council that would be made up of nine members, one from each congressional district, that would all be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the House and Senate.

"States that are doing well with their transportation infrastructure have a Secretary of Transportation," Crawford said, citing Kansas as an example.

But, some lawmakers do not support increasing taxes to repair the roads. Roark said he does not agree with any of the proposed taxes, but does support replacing the existing Director of Transportion with a Secretary of Transportation, which he said would be more accountable.

"Right now, we lack accountability in the Department of Transportation. My whole point is being able to call up someone in charge of transportation and getting straight answers," Roark said. "Right now, we have a commission of several members, and blame seems to be passed around between them and the director and we need to simplify the process. More accountability will bring better roads, I'm pretty sure of that."

Koller hopes this proposal will be on the November 2002 ballot so voters can decide on this issue. "It is our duty, to put it to them and let them respond, that's the American way," Koller said. "I have high hopes that they'll see what we're trying to do and they'll know what they want and they'll see the need. Hopefully, we'll get over the hurdle of low confidence that was displayed in the past and move Missouri on."