Cutting Social Services to Pay for Highways, and Other Bad Road Lobby Ideas

Drivers just got another break on the gas tax, thanks to inflation. Transit riders have no such luck. Graph: Next STL
Missouri drivers keep getting a break on the gas tax, thanks to inflation. Transit riders have no such luck. Graph: Next STL

Missouri lawmakers are really grasping for ways to keep the highway money flowing, after voters rejected a regressive sales tax hike backed by road builders in 2014.

Richard Bose at NextSTL points out that the key source of funding — the state gas tax — keeps losing purchasing power thanks to inflation. In the above chart, he contrasts the declining inflation-adjusted tax paid by drivers with the steady drumbeat of fare hikes imposed on transit riders.

Missouri lawmakers are floating an array of bills to buoy highway funding, which range from the logical (but politically impossible) to the deeply irresponsible, Bose writes:

Sen. Doug Libla has proposed SB 623. It would raise the gas tax by 1.5 cents and the diesel tax by 3.5 cents, raising an estimated $80M per year. Due to the Hancock Amendment this is all the legislature can do on its own. This bill passed out of a Senate committee, but will likely die in the House. A higher tax for diesel is a great policy considering how much more damage heavy vehicles do to roads.

The Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association are gathering signatures to raise the cigarette tax to raise money for transportation. The cigarette tax also is a fixed amount per unit thus declines over time. By passing this small tax increase they can ward off future attempts at a bigger one for children’s health care. We may find out if Missourians love their roads more than their children.

Most intriguing is Sen Schaaf’s SJR 18, an amendment that would raise the gas tax like Sen. Libla’s bill, but would also bequeath the supplementary system of roads (lettered roads) to counties, with some extra money. MoDOT is responsible for too many miles of roads. Many see less than 400 vehicles per day. This is the policy direction we should be heading thus it doesn’t have a chance.

Disturbing is Rep. Brattin’s HJR 70, an amendment that would put MoDOT funding ahead of issuing tax credits. The highways and transportation commission would determine the “needed” funding level. An independent committee of ten appointed by the speaker of the house and the president pro tempore would evaluate the funding proposal. In other words if you’re counting on Historic Tax Credits to make the numbers work on a rehab property because MODOT subsidies have undermined the value of said property, get in line!

Most disturbing is a plan to take savings from welfare cuts to pay for roads. A sure sign of our mixed up priorities would be to take welfare from children to provide welfare for cars. Anything to avoid the obvious.

None of these proposals address the elephant in the room- I-70 (tolls!). And none do anything to add service or provide relief to transit users.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Architect This City considers what Walmart’s reliance on grocery sales means for the mega-retailer’s business model. Green City Blue Lake tries to imagine what a serious urban policy would look like for the state of Ohio. And The Urban Edge offers five tidbits about Houston’s ambitious new bike plan.

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