JEFFERSON CITY - As U.S. consumers tighten their purse strings to prepare for a bear market, Missouri lawmakers were urged Tuesday to seek a tax increase for highways.
A Senate committee debated Tuesday four bills that would hike taxes to bolster transportation funding by hundreds of millions of dollars. Missouri is facing its most urgent need for transportation funding in a long time, lawmakers say.
The hearings were held on the same day as hundreds from around the state converged on the Capitol to celebrate "Total Transportation Day."
Missouri Department of Transportation, which received nearly 70% of the state's highway funding money in the past fiscal year, estimated it needs about $1 billion more to meet existing highway needs.
That funding gap will continue to grow in coming years without more revenue, department officials have said.
"We know we have a real serious problem," said Sen. Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis County, whose sponsored one of the tax-hike bills. "There is uncontrollable expenditure going up beyond the revenue."
Goode's bill would hike the gas tax by six cents per gallon, the sales tax by a half-cent and increase vehicle registration fees. In total, the bill would raise close to an estimated $500 million annually for transportation needs.
The competing plans come from Sen. John Schneider, D-St. Louis County, who proposed a five-cents-per-gallon increase, Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, who proposed a two-cents-per-gallon increase, and Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, who proposed a three-cents-per-gallon diesel fuel tax increase. All bills but Westfall's propose vehicle registration fee increases.
All of the measures would require statewide voter approval to take effect.
Only Jacob's bill drew opposition, primarily from representatives of the trucking industry. They said Jacob's bill, which also lowers the truck speed limit from 70 to 65 miles per hour, unfairly blames truckers for damaging state highways more than they actually do.
The executive with an independent trucking firm speaking for his industry, John Hancock, told the committee that Jacob's bill would hurt the 400 trucking contractors he was representing and Missouri's other 1,800 independent contractors.
"The impact it would have on them would be devastating," Hancock said. "Help me help my people."
Several groups testified in favor of the tax increases. Representatives from the Missouri Transportation Coalition, Transport Missouri and the Missouri Public Transit Authority all said they need more transportation funding from the state.