JEFFERSON CITY - Missourians would get to decide if they want improved roadways enough to foot the nearly $500 million bill themselves under a transportation proposal that gained preliminary Senate approval Wednesday.
The plan, sponsored by the Senate Transportation Committee Chairman, Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, would raise Missouri's general sales tax by 3/8 of a cent, to 4.6 cents per dollar, and increase the gasoline tax by 6 cents, to 23 cents per gallon, to fund transportation projects. The proposal would require voter approval to become law.
The proposal is expected to create nearly $500 million in additional revenue each year. State highways and bridges would receive $385 million, $77 million would go to local roads, $27 million to alternative transportation and $8.5 million for biodeisel and ethanol programs.
The approval vote of 21 to 9 marked a positive change from last week's sentiment, when the bill was placed on the informal calendar after extended discussion by rural Republican senators prevented a vote. Rural Republican opposition killed a similar transportation bill proposed by Gov. Bob Holden last year. Westfall, a rural Republican himself, was among those who helped defeat the governor's transportation proposal.
Westfall, who will be term-limited after this session, has since changed his tune. However, he said his proposal was less costly than the governor's. After spending a year riding Missouri's roads, he said he feels a tax increase is necessary.
"I think this will get around 100 million into the interstate system," he said. "No, that won't get the interstate system ideal, but it will make significant progress."
Westfall said his bill will probably come up for a vote in the Senate early next week. He said he expects the final vote to be similar to today's vote of 21 to 9 in favor of the proposal.
If the bill does gain Senate approval, a House vote will still be necessary.
However, since the session adjourns on May 17, time is of the essence.
"I bet we'll be into the last day," Westfall said. "We'll try to avoid that, but it will definitely be the last week."