Missourians should vote this November on an increase in the state gasoline tax to pay for transportation improvements.
Recommending another tax increase doesn’t come easily. Missourians know a higher fuel tax will particularly impact the poor and those on fixed incomes.
On balance, though, the case for raising the tax is compelling. We’re confident voters will see the facts: A higher gas tax is necessary, fair and won’t wreck family budgets.
▪ Need: Last week, a bipartisan task force recommended a 10-cents-per-gallon increase in the state’s gas tax. Diesel fuel would be taxed an additional 12 cents.
But the need has increased. “We lack sufficient funding for essential repair and maintenance, let alone adequate funds to adapt and expand the system to meet new and changing needs,” the task force found.
The fuel tax increases would provide an additional $430 million each year for road and bridge repairs and upgrades. That’s a little more than half of what the state needs, according to experts.
▪ Fairness: Funding highway and bridge projects with a fuel tax makes sense. Not only would highway users pay the cost of the projects, but out-of-state drivers buying gas here would be on the hook.
Other revenue producers — tolls, higher vehicle registration fees, general fund spending — deserve study. The task force correctly points out that high-mileage vehicles provide less revenue every year, and electric vehicles could change the funding structure entirely.
But no revenue source provides as much money as quickly as a gas tax.
▪ Cost: Gas prices have inched higher in recent months, but fuel remains a relative bargain. Adjusted for inflation, gas cost more in 1981 than it does today.
If you fill up once a week, a 10-cent increase would cost an additional $78 a year. Drivers would likely save more than that from fewer vehicle repairs and traffic jams.
We’re not locked in on 10 cents a gallon. The legislature may want to phase in a higher tax — say, a nickel a gallon every five years. It may want to add a “circuit breaker” to suspend collection of the higher tax if fuel prices rise.
Missourians who were burned by failed highway plans in the past may be more inclined to support an increase if it includes a sunset in 10 years. That would make the state prove it can effectively use an increase during the next decade before asking for renewal.
There will be a temptation to wait for Washington and President Donald Trump to help. Missouri should avoid it. Not only does the White House seem confused about infrastructure spending, but the amounts under discussion simply won’t be enough.
And borrowing isn’t the answer, either. The state is now paying $280 million a year in interest on road bonds issued in previous years.
Missouri has waited too long to make sure its citizens can get from here to there safely and comfortably. Legislators should keep that in mind and offer voters a chance to raise the gas tax in November.