In May, Missouri lawmakers approved a $6 billion measure that would raise sales taxes by three-fourths of a percent to create a fund dedicated to transportation projects from 2015 to 2025. State officials estimate that would mean $6 billion in new sales tax revenue solely for new transportation projects. About $4.8 billion of that would be distributed by the state and the remaining 20 percent would be divided among localities.
In part because of decreases in gasoline tax receipts and dwindling support from the federal government, the Missouri Department of Transportation officials have stopped all new roads projects. They say that by 2017, their funding will fall below the $485 million threshold they say they need to maintain the current system.
Ahead of the August vote, MoDOT officials have prepared a draft list of proposed transportation projects they would like to take on over the next 10 years. Across the state, the Department has held meetings previewing its list of projects. At the Joplin Chamber of Commerce earlier this month, MoDOT held a listening session to consider its list. The department has more than 200 projects on the list for the Southwest Missouri region..
A list was not provided to lawmakers before they voted on the proposal this spring.
The period for the new list lasts through July 3, and the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission should consider a final list at its July 9 meeting.
The measure that will go before voters has created some strange political bedfellows. On one side: Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and labor unions have announced support for the measure. On the other: Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, conservative groups like the Show Me Institute (which is funded by conservative St. Louis billionaire Rex Sinquefield), and the liberal Missouri Association for Social Welfare all oppose it.
Nixon, during an interview, said the measure would unfairly harm low-income Missourians, many of whom may not drive, and he was critical of the fact that it came after the Legislature voted to cut income taxes by about the same amount.
“Someone in a nursing home pays sales tax,” he said. “They don’t drive an 18-wheeler. You’re skipping the 18-wheelers here who are using the asset the most. Shifting away from a user fee, the way the current system is, may be necessary in the long run because of technological advances like electric cars, but to do so now and put that additional burden on folks at the same time you’re giving all these breaks out, it seems really like the wrong time.”
Rudy Farber, who used to chair the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, said he was “mystified” about Nixon’s opposition, particularly when the governor notes the problem facing transportation funding.
“If you’re opposed to something, at least propose an alternative,” he said. “If there is one, if there were to be one, I’m not tied to sales tax, it’s just the only one that seems to be viable,” noting internal polling by transportation advocates showing the tax as the most popular option among voters.