Editorials

Here’s the one tax Missouri Democrats and Republicans should support raising

Gov. Eric Greitens and other Missouri leaders need to start planning now for an increase in highway spending to preserve one of the nation’s largest road networks, which is woefully underfunded.
Gov. Eric Greitens and other Missouri leaders need to start planning now for an increase in highway spending to preserve one of the nation’s largest road networks, which is woefully underfunded. The Kansas City Star

Time for a single-question pop quiz to keep the ol’ noggin limber on this long Labor Day weekend:

What’s the one tax that both Missouri Republicans and Democrats acknowledge needs to be raised?

If you picked the gas tax, you notched a perfect score.

Two facts tell the story about highway funding in the Show-Me State. First, the state’s 34,000 miles of highways and 10,400 bridges add up to the nation’s seventh-largest road network.

Tax revenue per mile, though, ranks 47th in the country.

Get the picture?

Here’s a little more: The state gasoline tax has been stuck at 17 cents a gallon since 1996. Many registration and licensing fees haven’t budged since 1984 — and some not since 1969.

The gasoline tax in Pennsylvania now tops 50 cents a gallon.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has calculated a figure for the unmet needs that are outlined in its “Citizen’s Guide to Transportation Funding in Missouri.” The number: $825 million. That’s the additional amount the department needs each year to properly maintain its network. And the big, ugly fact of highway funding is that the cost of repairs only rises the longer they go unaddressed.

A modest nickel boost in motor fuel taxes, including diesel, would generate $144 million for the state.

We’ve harped on this before, and we’re doing it again because safe highways and well-maintained roads are not the purview of Democrats or Republicans, but of all of us for obvious reasons. Roads take us to our jobs and move our goods and allow emergency vehicles to get to their destinations quickly.

Every one of us is for that.

And every one of us can agree that the raw numbers that we’re laying out here today suggest that it’s time for an adjustment.

The question is whether lawmakers will finally muster the courage to do what they know needs doing. More pointedly, the question is whether Republican Gov. Eric Greitens will finally step forward with a plan.

The governor has been conspicuously silent on transportation needs before and after his election. He said virtually nothing about this pressing issue in his first State of the State address in January.

That must change, and that should happen in the weeks to come as the governor begins to plan his next budget. This is a need he can no longer overlook, even though 2018 will be an election year for every member of the House and half the state Senate.

A lot of people doubt Greitens will act. Almost anyone who’s walked the halls of the state Capitol this year can tell you that the word is Greitens wants to be president one day, and his best chance of making that happen depends on a record as governor that doesn’t include raising taxes.

We’ll rest our case with a few words about safety. Interstate 70 is an uncomfortable highway to drive. It’s crowded and downright scary in spots. When it comes to motor vehicle crashes statewide, Missouri’s 14.3 deaths per 100,000 population far exceed the national average of 10.9. Only 13 states recorded higher totals.

Missouri’s highway network is an asset of incalculable value. It needs our attention. Greitens and lawmakers should finally act in the name of preserving it.

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