The Missouri Influencer Series

In their own words: most Missouri leaders say gas tax increase is ‘long overdue’

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Missouri Influencer Series

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In the final question in the Missouri Influencers series focused on issues that affect the state, readers want to know: Would raising the gas tax help Missouri maintain its road infrastructure? Why or why not?

Here are the answers from our panel of Missouri leaders.

Kay Barnes, former mayor of Kansas City, senior director for university engagement at Park University

Yes. The gas tax will go a long way in addressing the massive road infrastructure needs the state now faces.

Michael Barrett, Missouri State Public Defender director

Yes and no. Gas tax is a regressive tax in that it tends to hurt those at lower income levels disproportionately. That said, it would be assessed proportionally to the extent one uses the roads. To the extent we need a dedicated funding source, it’s probably the best option.

Brenda Bethman, director of UMKC Women’s Center

Yes, Missouri’s gas tax is low and producing more money for roads and bridges would allow the state to do more to maintain and improve infrastructure.

Jean Paul Bradshaw, lawyer and former U.S. attorney

Passing Proposition D is essential to maintaining Missouri’s roads and bridges. There is no question that currently, we are woefully underfunded for our road systems, from interstates to county roads. The only question is the best way to raise the money necessary for this work. Other approaches have been proposed, but not adopted.

Quite frankly, this is probably the last chance to adopt a plan to provide the funds that are essential to maintaining our current road infrastructure. The tax is minimal and spreads the cost to all users of the highways, including those from other states. This is both a safety issue and an economic issue.

Luis Cordoba, Kansas City Public Schools’ chief student support and intervention officer

I don’t know if raising the gas tax in Missouri would be something that I would support.

One, increasing the gas tax would hurt the working poor, low- and middle-income families. An increase in the gas tax lessens the amount of money in their pockets as well as all the consumers that need to drive to go to work. If you drive a lot, you would adjust your budget to limit spending in other areas — eating out, clothing, entertainment, dollars spent on leisure and more. All of this affecting small and large owned businesses.

Two, government spending has traditionally been the topic of conversation around my table of friends. Some question whether or not our tax dollars are being spent wisely and within budgets. So the distrust on government spending puts a damper on many voters.

Three, the tax hike will almost certainly increase the price of consumer goods. The goods we receive in our markets and stores are brought through our highway systems, trucks, train, boats, etc. Consumers would get hit more ways than one through higher cost at the grocery store and all other consumer-related purchases. Someone will have to pay for the cost of the high fuel to transports goods.

It is for these reasons that I do not support Higher a higher gas tax. If I knew that my government was spending within their means and putting my hard-earned dollars into highway infrastructures, I may consider voting yes. Until then I would say absolutely not.

Thomas Curran, SJ, president of Rockhurst University

Raising the gas tax, at 10 cents per gallon for gasoline, and 12 cents per gallon for diesel, appears to be reasonable in scope and on its face.

Missouri last saw an increase in this tax in 1996. At that time, the increase was 17 cents per gallon. Adjusted for inflation, the buying power of that tax today is just 8 cents per gallon.

Missouri has 32,000 miles of roads and over 10,000 bridges. Nationally, this places Missouri as the seventh highest in roads and the sixth in bridges. Yet, the current gasoline tax rates place them at 46th in revenue per mile.

The proposed tax is expected to generate over $293 million dollars in additional revenue in 10 years.

Infrastructure repair is desperately needed across the state. The need is recognized in bipartisan way. The increase appears to be reasonable and has significant merit. Perhaps this ballot measure is the road, so to speak, towards a destination where we all wish to travel. At a time when we need to find matters upon which we agree and that help us collectively pursue the common good, it looks like we found one.

John C. Danforth, former U.S. senator

The present level of our gas tax has not kept pace with Missouri’s infrastructure needs, with obvious consequences to all who use our roads and bridges. Raising the tax would be an important step in the right direction.

Reza Derakhshani, EyeVerify developer

There’s no question that we need better and safer road infrastructure in Missouri. And not just better pavement and bridges, but also smart road technologies like connected traffic lights. Raising the gas tax can be considered as a short-term solution, but what about plug-in hybrids or other alternative fuel vehicles, for instance?

Jane Dueker, lawyer, radio host and former political adviser

Absolutely. We have not raised our tax since 1996. 10 percent of our state bridges are rated as “poor.” That is unacceptable.

Anyone who has driven on highway 70 across Missouri knows that we need to invest in our transportation infrastructure. Raising the gas tax also provides additional dollars to local governments for their road maintenance and improvement. The modest increase proposed in Prop D is far less expensive than the toll our substandard roads have on vehicles that travel on our roads and bridges.

Given we have a GOP governor and lieutenant governor wholeheartedly supporting this measure, this is the best chance we have in the foreseeable future to make a substantial investment. If Prop D gets done, it will be the largest bi-partisan most broad-based coalition supported investment made in our state in decades. It is way beyond time.

Patrick “Duke” Dujakovich, president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO

Yes. Raising the gas tax after 22 years makes a lot of sense to help Missouri maintain its infrastructure and stimulate economic development and jobs. Missouri has the 7th largest road system and 6th largest bridge system, yet the state ranks 46th in fuel tax funding to maintain the infrastructure. The dime increase would bring hundreds of millions more into the fund that is dedicated to road and bridge repairs and the men and women of the highway patrol who work the roads.

In the future, I want leadership in Jefferson City that offers smart and sound fiscal policies that understand how to fund the state’s basic needs without waiting a generation to address those needs.

John Fierro, Kansas City Public Schools board member

Yes. Kansas City district would receive $2.1 billion over 10 years for road work in the nine-county district if voters approve Prop D. That money would pay for 223 bridge repairs and keep more than 4,000 miles of highway lanes in good condition.

Based upon my own gas usage, I think paying an additional $78 a year for gas to have save bridges and roads is a small price to pay!

Today’s underfunding of Missouri’s transportation system is leading to the crumbling of the state’s roads and bridges. This is no longer only a road and bridge problem but an issue affecting economic development and community growth throughout the state. The current level of funding means that much of our highway system will continue to be neglected.

Gwendolyn Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City

Missouri hasn’t raised the gas tax in 22 years. One need only drive our highways and bridges to know that a tax increase to maintain Missouri’s road infrastructure is long overdue. The gas tax will generate $123 million for local municipalities to use on road maintenance. Additionally, it will generate $288 million for the Missouri Highway Patrol, thus freeing up revenue that MoDOT has budgeted for the patrol to be used on road and bridge projects throughout the state.

Jason Grill, media, public affairs and crisis communications consultant

Yes, Missouri has one of the lowest gas taxes in the country. Our road infrastructure has been neglected way too long. Drive through other states and on their highway systems and compare them to Missouri. It is clear that Missouri is deeply behind on road infrastructure.

Our Missouri roads and infrastructure are key to our economic growth. Drive down I-70 from Kansas City to St. Louis and tell me it’s not one of the worst experiences or highways you have ever driven on. Two lanes each way and its current condition is unacceptable and dangerous. This needs to change now. The minimal raise in the gas tax would help start this process to fix Missouri’s road infrastructure.

Deb Hermann, CEO of Northland Neighborhoods Inc. and former Kansas City Council member

Yes. Missouri’s road and bridges must be maintained in good condition for the safety of citizens and those traveling through the state. It is also important to tourism and economic development. Current funding is miserably inadequate. Missouri ranks 46th in the country for dollars spent on roads and bridges.

Bob Holden, former governor

Yes. We have one of the largest highway miles and interchanges in the country and a road system that connects the East to the West Coast and the Great Lakes to the Gulf. We need to do much more. Our transportation systems are critical to our state’s economy.

Patrick Ishmael, director of government accountability for The Show-Me Institute

Infrastructure is an appropriate role of government, and to the extent that it can be underwritten by taxes that are similar in nature to a user fee, the better the policy. That way, in the case of roads, the folks who use it, pay for it. Missouri has a lot of roadway to maintain.

Ideally, an increase in taxes for roads would be offset by a cut elsewhere. That does not change, however, the appropriateness of a gas tax to, ultimately, maintain the roads.

Sly James, Kansas City mayor

Proposition D will absolutely help Missouri maintain and improve its road infrastructure — when it is fully implemented, Kansas City will receive approximately $7.2 million in new funds every year for this purpose. Currently, there are more than 2,000 bridges in our state rated in poor condition or weight-restricted, and the state can’t afford to make those repairs.

We know this all too well here in Kansas city — the Buck O’Neil bridge was in critical need of repair, but with the state short of funding, we had to take care of it ourselves. That is not a sustainable solution.

Jolie Justus, Kansas City Council member

Yes. Raising the gas tax is a pragmatic and equitable way to raise much-needed funds for the state’s aging infrastructure. These critical needs are currently left unaddressed and often become the responsibility of local government, leaving fewer funds for city infrastructure. Prop D is a step in the right direction.

Crosby Kemper III, director of the Kansas City Public Library, co-founder of the Show-Me Institute

Well, who knows? The structure of this tax is to flow it through the Highway Patrol and carve out a certain percentage for specific high congestion areas. It is the opposite of simple and its indirect and qualified. I see no rational explanation for this.

We desperately need more money for roads and I was initially for this but if I don’t hear a better explanation about the “law enforcement” part of it, I’m voting no. This is another failure from both Jefferson City and the organizations who try to design these things. Too many people in this state trying to be clever.

Chris Maples, interim chancellor at Missouri University of Science and Technology

Raising the gas tax would help Missouri maintain its road infrastructure as long as the tax dollars are directed toward road maintenance.

Richard Martin, director of government affairs at JE Dunn Construction

Yes. And it’s long overdue. But we must do more than just pass Proposition D. Missouri needs a long term plan for I-70 and I-44. These critical interstate highways are dangerous and in a constant state of disrepair. They need special assistance once Proposition D has been enacted.

Jay Nixon, former governor


Ryan Silvey, Missouri Public Service commissioner and former state senator

Yes. Additional revenue dedicated to transportation would be very helpful. Furthermore, it provides opportunities to pull down additional federal transportation funds from the federal taxes we all pay.

Jeff Simon, managing partner, Husch Blackwell

Raising the gas tax better help Missouri maintain its road infrastructure, because that is what is being promised in no uncertain terms. And the answer is, yes, it will help maintain the roads. This tax is years overdue. Missouri is playing catch-up with its roads,- which have been the most vital infrastructure for a society and its economic prosperity since Roman times. We cannot miss this opportunity to drag our infrastructure toward the 21st century.

David L. Steelman, chairman of the University of Missouri Board of Curators and former state legislator

Absolutely. The answer should be obvious: In the past 20 or more years, vehicles have been designed to obtain greater mileage so fewer gallons purchased; but the cost of construction has increased. That is a reality we need to deal with.

Scott Wagner, Kansas City mayor pro tem

Yes, the state cannot perform the necessary maintenance on its system. The city has had to step up to provide half the funding for a new Buck O’Neil Bridge precisely because the outlook for maintaining the state’s current system is so bleak. If this state wishes to be a hub for distribution of goods, then it must invest in its infrastructure.

Pam Whiting, vice president for communications, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce

Absolutely. While Proposition D wouldn’t solve all the state’s transportation woes, it will certainly help. Our roads and bridges need whatever funding they can get.

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