The City of Lake Ozark Should Consider a Local Fuel Tax
The City of Lake Ozark is looking for more funding for road improvements. A local fuel tax could be the answer.
The city claims it needs $3 million to repair an important local road but lacks the funding to do so. The city’s leaders are considering a transportation development district (TDD) to raise money for the road through an extra sales tax, which would effectively subsidize road maintenance via shopping. My colleague David Stokes has already written about why a TDD is a poor remedy for this problem.
Fortunately, there is a better solution—local fuel taxes. Fuel taxes can be an economically sound and fair way to raise money for roads. They ensure that those who benefit from the roads also pay for them.
As the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission has noted, funding roads through methods not related to their use (such as sales taxes) promotes inefficient vehicle and travel choices. This, in turn, leads to faster road deterioration, wasted fuel, traffic congestion, and air pollution. If the sales tax (via the TDD) is a ploy to get tourists to help foot the bill for road maintenance, it should be noted that the same tourists would also pay the fuel tax. However, fuel taxes connect the cost of driving and the cost of using the roads.
Local fuel taxes allow localities to raise money for roads within their jurisdictions. When enacted, an additional fee is added to the price at the pump in a given jurisdiction. And since the Missouri Constitution requires that money raised from local fuel taxes be spent only on road construction and maintenance, it reduces the risk of this revenue being spent on other, potentially wasteful projects.
One potential challenge is that local fuel taxes can be tough to enact. The Missouri Constitution requires that local fuel taxes be passed with a two-thirds majority among voters. If it chooses to pursue it, Lake Ozark would be one of the first localities in Missouri to enact a local fuel tax. Foristell tried to enact one several years ago, but the measure fell just short with 65 percent voter approval. However, it was able to pass a 1 cent local fuel tax the following year.
Ultimately, before sales or other tax increases, local fuel taxes are an option worth considering as a fair solution to the City of Lake Ozark’s funding predicament.