Missouri lawmakers are considering a small fuel tax increase that would raise enough money to at least put a Band-Aid on our state's crumbling roads and bridges.
We hope the Legislature takes the bold leadership move to act on the proposal, sponsored by Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff.
We say "bold leadership" for two reasons:
It's an election year. Many elected officials, from the governor down to House members, will be appealing to voters for another term. For Republicans, which control both chambers of the Legislature as well as the governor and lieutenant governor's offices, that means being able to campaign on platforms of fiscal conservativeness and low taxes.
We generally support that line of thought. But infrastructure such as roads and bridges are basic, essential government provisions. And our roads and bridges are in poor shape.
Voters have already shot down proposals for a sales tax hike and then a gas tax hike to help maintain our roads/bridges. Would enacting a 2-cent fuel tax go against the will of voters? That's a fair question. We would argue that those failed proposals would have raised taxes considerably more. The last proposal, in 2018, would have raised the fuel tax by 10 cents, phased in over four years.
This proposal would raise some $130 million a year. In reality, much more is needed. But even a temporary fix at this point would help.
Missouri has the seventh-largest state highway system in the nation and the sixth most bridges on that system, but its gas tax is the fourth lowest in the nation. We pay 17 cents per gallon, the same as we paid more than 20 years ago.
In 2018, Gov. Mike Parson and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe provided leadership on the issue, supporting the gas tax ballot issue.
We hope they again take the lead, actively encouraging lawmakers to support this important issue.