Lieutenant governor says fuel tax defeat leaves MoDOT with few options

Traffic moves along Highway 54 in Jefferson City Wednesday afternoon. Voters on Tuesday defeated a fuel tax increase intended to fund highway repairs. (Garrett Bergquist/KRCG 13)

Lt. Gov. and longtime highway advocate Mike Kehoe on Wednesday said MoDOT will continue to make do with its current funding but it won't be able to do as much as it used to.

Missouri voters on Tuesday rejected Proposition D, a proposal to raise the state's fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon over four years, by a 53.6-46.3 margin. This marked the second time Missourians had rejected a tax increase intended for highway construction. In August of 2014, voters defeated Amendment 7, which would have imposed a 3/4-cent sales tax for 10 years. Fifty-nine percent of voters opposed that measure. Kehoe worked on both proposals when he was a state senator.

Kehoe said for now, MoDOT will continue to work with its existing revenue stream. He said that consists primarily of the state's fuel tax, still set at 17 cents per gallon, and vehicle sales taxes. Kehoe said that revenue stream will continue to lose value due to inflation and increasingly fuel-efficient vehicles. He said over the past 8 years, MoDOT's construction budget has shrunk by about $600 million each year. Among other things, Kehoe said the shrinking budget means more bridges become deficient every year than MoDOT can fix.

"We're not getting ahead of the curve (on fixing bridges)," he said. "I'm afraid you're going to see more weight-restricted bridges and different things that are a result of not-proper funding."

Kehoe said MoDOT will continue to seek federal funding but that money has become scarcer as well. Moreover, he said many federal grants require states to be able to match funds.

Kehoe said he and Gov. Mike Parson have started discussing other ways to address the state's infrastructure issues. He said it's hard to come up with nontraditional funding mechanisms for highways because highway projects are very large and require a stable revenue stream independent of the annual appropriations process, which is subject to lawmakers' whims. Kehoe said Missourians historically have not viewed toll roads favorably. Oregon is currently testing a tax on vehicle miles traveled. Volunteers install a device in their vehicle that tracks their mileage, which is then used to calculate a monthly bill. Illinois Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker early this year said that's something his state should look into as well. Kehoe said it's unlikely Missourians would endorse such an idea.

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