Senate begins transportation funding discussion
As the state with the seventh largest transportation system — yet funding that ranks 45th in the nation — Missouri’s infrastructure is in dire need of investment. A Senate Committee began considering a solution to this problem during a hearing on February 2.
The Senate Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety heard testimony on a bill to raise the state’s fuel tax so that the state can begin to address $825 million in annual unfunded high-priority transportation needs. Senate Bill 262 by Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz would gradually phase in the fuel tax increase. Two cents per year would be added to Missouri’s current 17-cent-per-gallon tax (one of the lowest in the nation) until the tax reaches 27 cents per gallon after five years.
Sen. Schatz said he plans to add language that would give Missourians the option to avoid paying the tax increase. It would create a rebate program so that drivers who didn’t want to pay the additional tax would receive a refund from the state. Such a system helped South Carolina pass a fuel tax increase in 2017.
Sen. Schatz said he has been working on transportation funding solutions for more than a decade. He is hopeful that this model will help our state finally invest in our transportation infrastructure.
“I believe it’s one of the most critical issues facing our state… without infrastructure, we are simply not going to be able to compete,” said Sen. Schatz. “The last time we had an increase in the motor fuel tax was 1996. A Republican governor, John Ashcroft, was the one that supported it, and it was a bipartisan agreement. I’m hopeful that what we — when we’re done with this process —have a bipartisan agreement to move this forward and solve this problem that’s been facing the state for many, many years.”
Patrick McKenna, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, testified that the additional funding would help the state address unfunded needs. McKenna said the state currently has between $8-10 billion in unfunded transportation needs.
“What I’m testifying is that we will utilize this money through a public process — should it pass — and get work done for the state of Missouri,” McKenna said.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry testified in support of this legislation. The Missouri Chamber has long been a champion of investing in our state’s transportation infrastructure to help grow our economy and create jobs.
In October, the Missouri Chamber released a report called Transportation2030: Making Missouri a Leading Logistics Hub. The report highlights Missouri’s logistics advantages that will be lost if policy makers continue to ignore the need for investment.
“Missouri can no longer wait for action on our crumbling transportation infrastructure. We need a solution — recognizing that our state’s transportation infrastructure is critical to our economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The best thing Missouri can do to bolster our economic recovery is to invest in our infrastructure,” said Daniel P. Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “There is a huge cost to failing to act. Our vital economic connections are currently languishing and deteriorating. The result is a road system that creates excessive congestion, wears down vehicles prematurely and lacks modern accident prevention features — leading to $8 billion in annual hidden costs and putting Missourians’ lives at risk each day. We must address this problem in 2021. The Missouri Chamber would like to thank Sen. Schatz for filing this legislation and continuing to champion this issue. We urge the General Assembly to make transportation funding a priority this year and pass Senate Bill 262.”