Want safer roads? It’s time to approve Prop D and boost the gas tax in Missouri

Wages and retail prices are apt to climb as the trucking industry foresees a shortage of 100,000 drivers nationwide by 2021.
Wages and retail prices are apt to climb as the trucking industry foresees a shortage of 100,000 drivers nationwide by 2021. File

It’s no wonder Missouri highway backers are stacking up endorsements for a higher gas tax as fast as Patrick Mahomes is throwing touchdown passes this season.

The gas tax is desperately needed to help Missouri maintain its highway infrastructure here in the crossroads of the nation. Missouri leaders — both Republicans and Democrats — understand that and support Proposition D on the November ballot.

The axle-bending truth is that Missouri has the nation’s seventh-largest highway system, but the second-lowest gas tax at just 17 cents per gallon. Missouri hasn’t raised its fuel tax since 1996 when a man named Bob Dole was running for president.

Some numbers: Missouri today has 34,000 miles of highways and 10,400 bridges. Some 2,000 of those bridges — about one in five — are either in poor condition or under weight restrictions.

After years of anguishing over this issue, the General Assembly finally agreed to a dime-a-gallon increase that will be phased in over four years if voters approve. Besides helping with highways, the tax will generate $124 million a year for city and county road needs. The money can’t be spent on anything else.

This is significant. For Kansas City, it would mean $7.2 million a year once the tax is fully phased in. For Independence, it would be $1.8 million a year; for Blue Springs, $826,957.

The tax would continue to provide a dedicated funding stream for the Highway Patrol. In fact, the ballot language directs the gasoline tax proceeds to “state law enforcement,” which will then free up hundreds of millions of dollars for road and bridge repairs.

The need for the tax is so overwhelming that one is tempted to criticize the General Assembly for not proposing a still-higher increase given how rarely lawmakers bow to the realities of an ever more costly world. Lawmakers easily could have justified a larger bump. The increase should have been tied to the inflation rate.

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Other states have recognized reality and boosted their rates in recent years. Pennsylvania led the nation last year in gasoline taxes at 58 cents a gallon. All of the states surrounding Missouri have higher fuel taxes: Kansas is at 24 cents, Nebraska at 28 cents, Iowa at nearly 31 cents. Illinois is at 34 cents a gallon while Arkansas stands at almost 22 cents.

But in Missouri, you take what you can get.

Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, is on board. He’s said the state can no longer afford to put off spending more for such a vital need.

“If we don’t get it done now, I don’t know when we get it done” Parson said in Columbia recently. “This is a huge election.”

No organized opposition to Proposition D has emerged. One critic, Rep. Mike Moon, an Ash Grove Republican, disapproved of the parliamentary maneuvers that supporters employed to get the hike on the ballot.

“I believe the bill was unconstitutional,” he said. He also said he was concerned that the legislature will still have to sign off on Highway Patrol funding each year, and that will place patrol finances on somewhat shaky footing.

Moon took the issue to court, but lost.

It’s past time for Missourians to step up to the plate and do right by the state’s highway system. Vote “yes” on Proposition D on Nov. 6.

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