Voters will get the opportunity in November to decide whether to increase the state gas tax by 10 cents a gallon to help pay for road and bridge repairs and to fund the Missouri Highway Patrol.
Lawmakers passed a bill Friday that would let voters decide whether to increase the gas tax by two-and-a-half cents each year for four years. The current state tax is 17 cents a gallon.
The bill passed the House 88-60 on the last day of the session. House communications director Trevor Fox said the governor's signature is not needed for the measure to go before voters.
Rep. Jean Evans, R-Manchester, the sponsor of the bill that includes the measure, said the tax would generate at least $288 million annually for the Highway Patrol and $123 million annually to local governments for road construction.
“Send this vote to the people,” Evans said. “This is a vote for freedom and for safety.”
Rep. Kevin Corlew, R-Kansas City, served on the 21st Century Missouri Transportation System Task Force, which recommended a gas tax to help with a shortfall in transportation infrastructure funding. He said the tax has been 17 cents since the 1990s.
“Our grandparents built us a tremendous infrastructure, transportation system here in Missouri … that’s brought us to where we are today,” Corlew said during House debate. “We’ve got a system that can really keep our citizens safe and move our economy — if we choose to maintain it.”
The Missouri Department of Transportation reports it's short $825 million for high-priority needs alone, and though 90 percent of the state's major highways and interstates are in good condition, it has no money to start expansion projects or improve public safety. The department says it must use all its resources to maintain the current system.
Rep. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, pointed to bridges in need of repair across the state, which has the nation’s seventh largest state highway system.
“We have these projects all over Missouri. We need to address it,” Razer said. “This is a fantastic opportunity to allow the people of Missouri to make a decision about our roads and bridges.”
Some lawmakers expressed concerns with the tax.
“It’s a deceptive tax increase,” said Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters. “We’re increasing revenues for the state and taking it out of the pockets of hard-working Americans.”
When the tax was debated Wednesday in the Senate, lawmakers expressed concerns with how the funds would be managed.
“I have no problems with increasing the fuel tax for our roads, but this particular way of doing it, I just have some real concerns,” said Sen. Jay Wasson, R-Nixa. “Highway Patrol receives money based on how well they’re performing … but in this legislation it appears we wouldn’t have control of Highway Patrol funding.”
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, worried how the funds would be distributed.
“I have constituents who just don’t like these kinds of taxes,” Chappelle-Nadal said, “and they’re African-American. Their issue is that the funds that are received from this do not adequately go to the urban core.”