Missouri’s Airports Don’t Need Sales Tax Money
In August, Missourians will decide whether the state should increase the sales tax by 0.75 cents to fund transportation projects. Because the sales tax would raise money without relation to how much people use a particular type of transportation, some localities have proposed wasteful projects with little transportation merit. Among these questionable destinations for sales tax money are 16 airport projects.
Airports in Missouri already are self-sufficient and/or receive significant federal and state funds. Missouri’s largest commercial airports, Lambert-St. Louis International, Kansas City International, and Springfield-Branson, are capable of financing any reasonable capital improvement projects without aid. In addition, these airports receive federal money through the Airport Improvement Program and the Passenger Facility Charge. Missouri’s largest airports do not need sales tax money.
Missouri’s smaller commercial airports, though not self-sufficient, already receive significant local, state, and federal aid. For instance, Columbia Regional Airport received $8 million in federal grants in the past three years and is slated to receive an extra $350,000 in the next five years from state airport grants. This is on top of a regional revenue guarantee scheme to entice airlines to fly out of Columbia without risk of financial losses. Joplin’s airport received $13 million in federal grants in the past three years and expects $10 million in state aid over the next five years. It also is a beneficiary of the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, which is essentially federally subsidized airline service.
Eleven of the proposed sales tax recipients are general aviation airports. While they may serve a useful purpose to local businesses and recreational fliers, these airports already are heavily subsidized. For example, Camdenton Memorial Airport is a small airport that plans to spend almost $826,443 in the next year with less than $100,000 of user-generated revenue. The remaining funds will come from the city coffers and federal or state grants. Without any sales tax money, this small airport with only 30 based aircraft is scheduled to receive $5.85 million in aid.
Simply put, like much of Missouri’s transportation system, airports already have effective funding mechanisms. For the smaller airports, it is probably too effective, unless you love enormous subsidies for small assets.
The fact that cities and counties plan to spend general sales tax money on Missouri airports is another reason the proposed Amendment 7 is terrible public policy.