A new report by a national conservative think-tank has placed Missouri right in the middle of the country in terms of economic competitiveness, but dinged the state for being one of a number of states that proposed raising taxes this session in order to fund transportation improvements.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative policy organization backed by some of the country’s largest corporations whose policies are supported by a number of Republican lawmakers, ranked Missouri No. 27 on its scale – right behind Republican-Controlled Louisiana, but ahead of states neighboring states like Kentucky, Nebraska and Illinois.
According to the report, Missouri was one of 16 states that considered tax increases of some kind in 2015 and one of five states that proposed increasing its gas tax. The report found that, as was the case in Missouri, the tax hikes were “sold as necessary to fund roads and infrastructure.”
ALEC, which broadly opposes tax increases, said in its report, “priority based budgeting is recommended as a tool for states to adequately fund core functions of government,” and that, “raising taxes should be a last resort for road and infrastructure expenses.”
At 17.30-cents, Missouri has one of the lowest gas taxes in the nation – lower than all of its bordering states except Oklahoma and below the national average of 28.14-cents a gallon, according to the American Petroleum Institute. By 2017, the money Missouri is projected to have to spend on transportation will not meet the amount required to receive federal matching money to build new roads and bridges and sustain the ones already in place.
Gov. Jay Nixon, Missouri’s Democratic governor who ran for the office twice promising to not raise taxes, is backing a plan to do just that to try to bridge the gap. In a recent interview, Nixon said raising the gas tax should not be thought of as a tax hike, but rather as a “user fee” for using the state’s roads.
“The way that we pay to use roads is that for each mile that we travel, we pay a little bit to do that. That formula has dramatically shifted because now vehicles get much more mileage, they go a lot further and consequently, less money is paid per mile than it used to be. Beginning the process of truing that up would put us in a lot better situation,” he said. “I see this as folks paying as they go when they use our system, and the need to improve our highway system.”
Sen. Doug Libla, Republican of Poplar Bluff, sponsored the plan in the Legislature earlier in the session, but failed to get the measure across the finish line facing conservative opposition. In 2014, voters rejected a proposal that would have raised the state’s sales tax to fund infrastructure improvements.