Highway Funding Proposals Stall in Missouri Legislature
When the legislative session began earlier this year, there was some hope that policymakers would be able to modernize the Missouri Department of Transportation’s (MoDOT) user-fee tax base to avert a growing funding crisis for Missouri’s highways. The session is now completed, and unfortunately lawmakers took no concrete actions in this area.
While this is a setback for Missouri’s transportation system, and will likely mean some loss in federal matching funds next year, the conversation in Jefferson City has moved in a positive direction. In previous years, policymakers essentially ignored the idea of having highway users pay for the roads (through fuel taxes as tolls), and instead put forward a general statewide sales tax as the only possible solution for MoDOT. This year, there were many bills in the senate and house that would have increased fuel taxes, changed the way fuel taxes were calculated, or even introduced tolling. The bill that made it furthest in the legislature, SB 540, would have both increased the fuel tax (1.5 cents regular and 3.5 cent diesel) and allowed tolling highways through public-private partnerships.
We can only hope that next year state policymakers will turn this positive momentum into policy. Because while MoDOT should have enough funds to maintain the state highway system in 2016, by 2017 this may no longer be the case. At that time the “325 Plan,” which would allow many heavily used highways in the state to fall into disrepair, will go into effect. That’s not a result anyone wants, and it’s unnecessary if the state raises highway user fees commensurate to the level needed to pay for highways.