Are Missourians Ready for Toll Roads?
Yesterday, Combest linked to a story in the Post-Dispatch about a talk that former MoDOT director Pete Rahn gave in St. Louis. His point was that we need to reinvest in our transportation infrastructure, yet Missouri does not tax enough to pay for our needs. According to Rahn:
Add up gas taxes, registration fees and license plate fees and the average Missourian pays $129 in state transportation taxes a year, Rahn said.
That sounds about right, but it is important to point out that you pay more when you include federal and local transportation taxes. My calculation is that the average Missourian who lives in one of our larger cities (where they have transportation sales taxes) probably pays around $450 per year in total transportation taxes. Assuming you drive 15,000 miler per year at 20 mpg, own a $100,000 home and a $10,000 car, and spend $10,000 a year on taxable goods, that would roughly lead to:
- $138 in Federal gas taxes
- $129 in state gax taxes
- $100 in local transportation sales taxes (using Columbia’s rate of $0.01 per $1; the St. Louis rate is slightly higher after the recent Metro vote)
- $23 in local property taxes (using the St. Louis County road and bridge rate of $0.105 per $100; this rate varies widely by county)
- $50 per year in plates and registration (varies by horsepower of vehicle, length of registration, etc.)
- $10 per year in local car fees (city stickers, etc.; again, varies greatly between areas)
My guess is that most people would have guessed more than $450 if you asked them to estimate their total transportation-related annual taxes. Other points Rahn made include:
Don’t count on the gas tax, said Rahn. It pays most of the bills now, but raising it is “extremely unpopular,” Rahn notes, and it has a limited shelf life, with alternative fuel vehicles expected to take bigger and bigger market share.
I disagree with that. I think Missourians might approve a reasonable gas tax increase, if asked. The article continued:
One alternative, a “vehicle miles traveled” tax, which charges heavy drivers more than light ones. Another? The opposite approach, a general sales tax, which would hit everyone about equally, recognizing that we all benefit from highways even if we don’t use them.
It did not seem from the article that Rahn was advocating for a sales tax increase, thankfully. Increasing sales taxes to pay for highway investment is a terrible idea. That moves in the direction of externalizing the internal costs of a car, which is completely the wrong direction. Truckers and bicyclists should not face the same tax burden to pay for roads. A gas tax increase far better approximates a user fee.
Finally, Rahn gets to the key point:
And, he said, get used to one thing we don’t have much of here:
“Tolls are going to have to be a part of it,” Rahn said.
Tolling is something I support completely. Our transportation funding should be a mixture where gas taxes serve as the baseload, dedicated property and sales taxes support local transportation, and tolls increasingly augment the highway and bridge system.