Lee’s Summit’s council members, as leaders of one of Missouri’s larger cities, decided to urge legislators in the Capitol to fix the state’s transportation funding crisis, passing a resolution and sending it to the Capitol.
It landed like a lead blimp.
Rep. Mike Cierpiot, assistant majority floor leader in the Missouri House, said he’d talked with a few legislators about the idea.
“I don’t think it has much chance,” Cierpiot said last week. “I appreciate (the council) trying to at least get the ball rolling.”
No one has stepped up to sponsor such a bill, he said.
Lee’s Summit is Missouri’s sixth most populous city as measured by the 2010 Census, and Councilman Derek Holland thought a blend of tax increases to fund transportation might succeed with voters, who in August rejected a three-quarter-cent sales tax. He persuaded the council to endorse these increases earmarked for transportation of:
▪ a quarter-cent sales tax.
▪ fuel tax increase of 5 cents on gasoline and a 7-cent tax on diesel.
▪ a 50-cent fee on monthly utility bills.
The proposal was to help fill a $160 million gap the Missouri Department of Transportation predicts for 2017, which would force it to mostly cut back to basic maintenance of primary routes and face a shortfall where it couldn’t match federal grants.
Cierpiot said state legislatures across the U.S are grappling with the same problem.
He noted that at one time when gasoline was about 17 cents a gallon, it nearly equaled the miles per gallon of his car. Now with improvements in efficiency, vehicles can go twice as far on a gallon of fuel, but Missouri’s tax is still $17.3 on gasoline or diesel.
And battery technology is on the cusp of creating a much larger market for electric cars, he said.
He said it’s premature to decide on how to revamp Missouri’s transportation funding. It might be better to wait to get a clear picture on where technology is going and what voters expect.
“A few short years from now we’ll be back at the table again as far as fuel taxes for vehicles that use the road,” Cierpiot said.
Rep. Gary Cross agreed that electric cars are a future concern and that a fuel tax increase might be a short-term fix. Cross said transportation is vital to commerce, so he is open to some way to enhance funding.
“I just can’t tune it out,” Cross said.
One bill introduced in the General Assembly would raise the fuel tax incrementally.
In February, State Sen. Doug Libla proposed a 6-cent fuel tax increase, raising it by 2 cents this year, then an additional 2 cents next year and again a third year. After that, it would increase automatically, adjusted for inflation.
That proposal doesn’t require voter approval, because it would be under the cap the Hancock Amendment set for increases allowed due to inflation. Libla represents eight counties in the southeast section of the state.
That would at least give Missouri money to capture federal transportation money it could lose because it can’t match grants.
Cierpiot said no one on the House side had proposed a similar bill.
Sen. Will Kraus, who represents Lee’s Summit, said that bill would raise about $80 million, but he didn’t know if it could pass.
He said that transportation is a vital part of state responsibilities, but that voters had spoken on the tax increase.
“I’m not likely to vote for a tax increase. I believe we’re taxed enough,” Kraus said.
The council itself wasn’t in complete accord on the resolution, voting 5 to 2 on Feb. 19, with Councilman Allan Gray absent.
Council members Bob Johnson and David Mosby voted no.
Mosby said he’d support a resolution urging legislators to find a way to finance transportation projects, but he didn’t want to include a specific list of taxes.
Johnson said he wanted an alternative for financing transportation, saying instead the council should call for the repeal of a $700 million income tax cut passed by the General Assembly. Those tax cuts mostly benefit wealthy individuals and corporations, although average taxpayers will get about a $30 tax break, he said.
Holland said Wednesday he’d spoken with several legislators. He said that he thinks the loss of the previous sales tax election combined with Republicans controlling the General Assembly and Democratic governor, might cause the issue to stall until after the next election. He said at least the city was getting some discussion going.
“I don’t think it will get much traction this year,” Holland said. “I talked to a few (legislators). It’s just not there.”