Gas Tax Increase for I-70
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Gas Tax Increase for I-70

Date: March 29, 2007
By: Sarah D. Wire
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A second Missouri Republican transportation leader has introduced legislation that would raise the sales tax on gas in an effort to raise money to renovate I-70.

House Transportation Chairman Neal St. Onge, R-St. Louis County, introduced Thursday a bill to raise more than $4 billion over six years to fund expansion of I-70 along with other transportation projects.

Earlier this year, the Senate Transportation Committee chairman had sponsored legislation for a sales tax increase to finance Interstate expansions.

The Thursday House proposal, which would require statewide voter approval would oppose 4 cent tax increase on gasoline -- raising Missouri's current 17 cent fuel tax to 21 cents per gallon.  It also would raise the sales tax by one-half-penny per dollar.

The tax would be repealed after six years, after raising more that $4 billion, so the impact of the tax can be reevaluated St. Onge said .

St. Onge said money raised through the tax increase would rebuild I-70, would raise almost $50 million for state public transportation and would allocate a large lump sum to fund general state transportation.

During the rebuilding of I-70, truck only lanes would be built in to separate trucks and cars, which St. Onge says will be a major selling point in his effort to get voters to approve the tax.

According to St. Onge, trucks currently account for nearly 40 percent of traffic on I-70 and he said that number will increase.

"A lot of people say, why are you doing this now? I think we need to start this dialog and start this discussion right now," St. Onge said.

The federal government has announced it will greatly decrease funding for the maintenance and repair of highways, including  Interstate 70 in late 2009. Despite being two years away from the change, Missouri politicians are beginning to consider how the state will cope with the funding loss.

"We will be down to a bare bones, if we're lucky, maintenance program on our highways," St. Onge said. "There will be no money for new construction, or new highways."

Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, agreed that because of the federal funding cutoff approaching within the next two years, discussion about how best to maintain and rebuild the state's highways needs to begin now.

"I'm not sure I'm strictly just for a sales tax," Robb said. "We are in a situation where ultimately we're going to have to take a very hard look at the infrastructure needs of the state, we're going to have to come up with some new ideas."

Bills introduced this late in the legislative session are rarely voted on or heard by the legislature and St. Onge said he is not expecting the bill to be voted on this year. Instead, St Onge said he and other members of the state legislature plan to get the issue onto the 2008 ballot so voters can decide on the issue.

St. Onge said he wants to spend the next year educating Missourians about the future funding problems and the need for a tax increase.

"Already some of my colleagues have said you can't have a tax increase," St. Onge said. "But I don't look at it as a tax increase, I look at it as an investment. We're putting it before the people, this will not be done before the House or Senate."

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Stouffer, R- Napton, introduced a similar bill earlier in the session that would increase the sales tax on gas one penny on the dollar. Stouffer's tax plan would rebuild I-44 as well as I-70 and would also require a state-wide vote to be approved.

Stouffer's gas tax would turn I-70 and I-44 into an eight lane highway, also with a separate truck lane, and the tax would end in 2018.

Like St. Onge, Stouffer has said his objective this year has been only to get the dialog started for the 2008 legislative session.