Politicians debate sales tax to fund transportation

Missouri transportation has been funded by a tax on motor fuel, but fuel consumption is going down.

The House and Senate committee heard testimony this week on companion bills to try to find a way to get Missouri voters to say yes to an increase in the state sales tax to fund transportation.

For decades, Missouri transportation has been funded by a tax on motor fuel.

Senator Ryan McKenna said, "It's easy to see this is a formula that's destined to fail. And i think we're startin' to see that it is failing."

That's because, as cars become more efficient and as the price of gasoline rises, fuel consumption goes down.

Pete Rahn, former Missouri Department of Transportation director, said, "The idea of a sales tax, I think, is a good policy solution, because it means everyone that benefits from transportation is gonna help support it."

Advocates say the sales tax approach is the one that provides enough money to make a difference â?? almost $8 billion over a ten-year period, a tenth of which would go to cities and counties for their local transportation needs.

MoDOT director Kevin Keith said, "To put that in perspective, you get the same amount of resources, you'd be talkin' about a 25-cent fuel tax increase."

Critics don't appear to trust that the law would keep the money from being diverted to other uses, nor that the promises made to voters would be kept.

Scott Ogilvie, on the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, said, "I feel like we have the cart before the horse a little bit, because we don't know the list of projects that would be fund."

Jefferson City Senator Mike Kehoe said the list must wait until the tax is approved for the ballot, lest it become a political football.

"You never want this legislative body to see a list, because it will just be a nightmare," Kehoe said.

Voters, of course, would see that list before going to the polls.

If approved by lawmakers, the sales tax question most likely would appear on the November 2014 ballot, although Governor Jay Nixon would have the option to set the election at a different time.