By Sen. Doug Libla
Thankfully, back in 1924, forward-thinking citizens convinced their legislators that Missouri needed a system of “hard surface” highways. The big issue then, as it is now, how to pay for it? All motorists, traveling in and through Missouri, help pay for the great highway system we know and enjoy every day. A very large percent of this fuel tax is collected from out of state motorists purchasing fuel at the pump; this is a good thing for Missouri taxpayers. What started out in 1924 as a 2¢ per gallon motor fuel “user” tax is currently 17¢ per gallon and has been the same since 1996. 30% of this revenue is dedicated to cities and counties across Missouri.
Who manages this money? It goes into our state highway trust fund and is overseen by 6 volunteer highway commissioners that are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Missouri Senate. In addition, regional planning and local citizen commissions spread all across the state help identify their individual highway priorities annually with the highway commissioners.
Can this money be co-mingled with general revenue of the state? No, it is set aside in its own account and is not subject to appropriations by the legislature.
Why do we have a funding shortage in our road fund? Governor John Ashcroft had the foresight, and courage, in 1992 to sign into law a 2+2+2 graduated fuel tax adjustment. Due to the Missouri legislature’s failure to adjust the motor fuel “user” tax rate since 1996, this “user” tax has not kept up with inflation of construction, maintenance, labor, and other overhead. These costs in many cases have tripled.
Different funding scenarios, from toll roads to general revenue, have been discussed by many well-intentioned groups. However, this should not be a huge mystery; the best funding solution, the motor fuel “user” tax, has been with us for 94 years. It is proven to be both fair, reliable, sustainable, and equitable; but, the rate needs to be adjusted.
We must move Missouri forward. The safety of the motoring public, our families, and economic development are too important to continue neglecting. Let’s get our heads “out of the sand”, and realize, that we cannot build our 21st transportation needs with 20th century purchasing power.
Go to the polls on November 6th and vote YES on Proposition D!