Missouri senators propose 1-cent transportation sales tax

Missouri lawmakers on Tuesday proposed increasing the state sales tax by a penny for the next decade to raise money for transportation needs.

Sen. Mike Kehoe, a Jefferson City Republican, and Sen. Ryan McKenna, a Crystal City Democrat, introduced a proposal that would require voter approval to enact the tax and to renew it after 10 years. Supporters estimate it would generate nearly $8 billion over a decade and could support more than 250,000 jobs.

“It’s the best time for the investment right now,” said Kehoe, who previously served on the state’s transportation commission. “Missourians are going to get a great value on construction work.”

The senators and two Republican House supporters touted the sales tax proposal at a news conference.

Under the proposal, the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission would publish a list of specific projects and indicate how and when the new revenue would be spent before the measure appears on the ballot. If voters pass the tax, the commission will produce an annual progress report for the legislature and the governor.

Ten percent of the revenue would go to cities and counties for local transportation needs.

In addition, Missouri would freeze the gasoline tax rate and could not turn existing roads into toll roads. The sales tax would not be levied on medicine, groceries and gasoline.

“There’s nothing tricky that we’re trying to hide here. We’re strictly trying to take moneys needed for infrastructure investment and put them to work in our state so that we continue to expand,” Kehoe said.

Rep. Dave Hinson, a St. Clair Republican, filed a transportation sales tax measure in the House on Tuesday.

There has been growing concern about funding for Missouri’s transportation system. In 2006, the Transportation Department director at the time, Pete Rahn, said the annual highway construction budget would decline significantly by 2010 as bond payments for past projects came due. Rahn frequently used the metaphor that Missouri’s funding would fall off a cliff.

The funding decline was delayed because of federal economic stimulus money approved in 2009, but in the last year the state’s highway construction funding has fallen from $1.2 billion to less than $700 million.

A transportation task force said in a report last month that Missouri should be spending an additional $600 million to $1 billion annually for transportation.

Last month, transportation commission chairman Rudy Farber proposed a 1-cent sales tax increase. He joined the lawmakers Tuesday. That proposal included setting aside $1 billion to add lanes on Interstate 70 between Independence and Wentzville, with money also going to cities and counties and to the state for road, transit, rail, waterway, aviation and other transportation projects.

“Transportation is key,” Farber said Tuesday. “It does two things: jobs and safety. And we need them both. We need to make sure that we do as well for the generation that follows us as the generation that preceded us.”

Legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon this year also have indicated support for a bond package that could pay for construction at state facilities and college campuses.

Nixon said continuing discussion about long-term transportation needs is important, but he envisions addressing the bond proposal this year and transportation needs next year. House Speaker Tim Jones, a Eureka Republican, is sponsoring the bond proposal in his chamber. Jones said he remains interested in both.