Missouri is inching toward a major change in the way it pays for highway improvements and repairs. Drivers should pay attention.
For decades, the state has raised highway revenue from fees collected when a driver registers a car. The fees are based on a car’s horsepower, an admittedly archaic way to do it.
Bills now on the table would end that practice. Instead, car owners would pay a fee based on a car’s gas mileage.
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But the proposal to change to a gas mileage-based registration system is flawed because it relies on an ill-conceived incentive system: The better your car’s mileage, the higher your cost.
If your car gets 20 miles to the gallon, for example, the registration fee would be $24. If your car gets 40 miles to the gallon, the fee is $90. At 60 miles a gallon, the fee tops out at $210 a year.
Electric car owners, who use no gasoline, are punished even more. They already pay an annual fee of $75 for what’s called a special fuel decal. The new bill, as introduced, would add $210 to that.
The argument for charging higher fees for fuel-efficient cars is simple. If you use less gas, the state gets less gas tax revenue. In a state already struggling to maintain its highways, the search for revenue is never-ending.
The new registration system, when fully implemented, could raise more than $100 million for the state’s roads.
But at what additional cost? If Missouri passes this law, it will be encouraging drivers to use older, lower-mileage vehicles that belch additional pollutants into the air. That’s a clear health hazard.
Additionally, lawmakers are already thinking about eliminating mandatory annual inspections for non-commercial motor vehicles. Again, we’re sympathetic to the goal, but ending inspections will put an aging, potentially dangerous fleet on Missouri roads.
And car owners will be loath to trade in those old cars because a new model will get better mileage, increasing the registration fee.
There should be a better way to maintain roads and bridges in Missouri. Lawmakers can increase the gas tax slightly without a vote of the people, an idea that should get serious scrutiny. They also might think about a registration fee based on a car’s value, not its mileage or horsepower.
Gov. Mike Parson’s bond program would use general revenue for road and bridge improvements. Everyone benefits from well-maintained infrastructure, and using general revenue for highways is a reasonable idea.
Missouri, like most states, must figure out how to move to a different funding system for transportation, as drivers migrate to electric and hybrid vehicles. But charging owners of modern cars more than the clunker next door is the wrong way to do it.