Missouri Gas Tax Hike Backers Hope to Flip ‘No’ to ‘Yes’
Missouri voters have a long track record on proposed tax hikes best summarized by one word: No.
Yet organizers of the “Yes on D” campaign to raise Missouri’s gas tax by 10 cents a gallon believe this may be the year when voters finally consent.
With only days to go before Tuesday’s election, there is no organized campaign urging people to vote “no” on Proposition D and not a penny dedicated to counteracting the nearly $5 million raised by supporters.
“I think there’s a majority of the people — and a large majority of the people — who feel there’s a funding gap” for Missouri’s roads and bridges, said Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, who’s been traveling the state in support of the gas tax hike.
The question is “just what fix is right?” Kehoe added.
Four years ago, a majority of voters said “no” to a proposed three-quarters cent sales tax that would have raised an estimated $534 million annually for roads and bridges.
In 2002, voters resoundingly defeated a proposed half-cent sales tax and 4 cent fuel tax that would have raised an estimated $483 million annually for roads, bridges and other modes of transportation.
In fact, since voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1996 requiring all tax increases over a certain amount to go to a statewide vote, not a single general tax increase has passed.
Meanwhile, at least 30 other states have raised transportation taxes or fees over the past six years, according to an Associated Press analysis. That includes California, where voters will be deciding Tuesday whether to repeal a 2017 law that raised gas taxes and vehicle fees to generate about $5 billion annually for transportation.
Prior tax increases have faced trouble in Missouri from both the political right and left, with some opposed to giving more money to government and others concerned about the fairness of who would be taxed. The coalition behind this year’s measure includes Republican Gov. Mike Parson, state business and agricultural groups, local government and school associations, the trucking industry, unions and construction contractors.
“For the state of Missouri to move forward in the future, infrastructure has a critical role, and I think people are really starting to understand that,” Parson said.
The group that opposed the 2014 transportation initiative no longer exists. It had cited concerns that the sales tax hike would have burdened low-income people while requiring essentially nothing from cross-country truckers who cause some of the greatest wear on roads.
This year’s proposal focuses on highway users. It would raise the state’s 17-cent-a-gallon fuel tax in annual 2.5 cent increments, starting next July, until it reaches 27 cents a gallon in July 2022. The full tax hike would cost an estimated $5 a month for an average motorist who drives 12,000 to 15,000 miles a year, according to the SaferMo.com committee backing the initiative.
When fully implemented, it’s projected to raise at least $288 million a year for the state road fund and $123 million for city and county roads. That would cover only a portion of what the Missouri Department of Transportation says is a $745 million annual funding gap in state road and bridge needs.
Missouri’s gas tax hasn’t changed since 1996 and is now the second lowest nationally behind only the oil-producing state of Alaska.
Democratic St. Louis Alderwoman Cara Spencer, who was involved in the 2014 opposition campaign, is among those supporting this year’s proposed tax hike.
“Gasoline tax has some level of regressiveness to it, but you’re at least taxing the users, and most importantly those truckers that go through” the state, Spencer said.
Former Democratic state Sen. Joan Bray, who also was part of the 2014 opposition, said she remains opposed to this year’s measure, partly because none of the revenue would go to mass transit or public transportation.
Bray voiced her opposition in a column published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but she said many other activists are focused on races for U.S. Senate and Congress or ballot measures to raise the minimum wage, legalize medical marijuana and revamp legislative ethics and redistricting rules.
“I think this time people are so stretched doing so many other campaigns that organizing over this one got very, very low priority,” Bray said. She added: “I’m just hoping that it will lose again.”