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Missouri Governor: Don't Show Me a Gas Tax Hike!

It is an understatement that Increasing fuel taxes is challenging. If there is an opportune time to do it, it's when gas prices are relatively low, when the state decides to cut other taxes, and when there's bipartisan support.
February 13, 2018, 10am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Gas Pumps

"Gov. Eric Greitens [R] reiterated Thursday that his plan to cut the state’s tax will not be paired with a fuel tax increase," report Jason Rosenbaum and Erin Achenbach for St. Louis Public Radio on Feb. 8.

The governor's statement comes as a blow to Republicans and Democrats who were backing a plan to hike fuel taxes 10-cents per gallon to maintain the state's extensive highway network.

“As you saw in our tax plan, we are not planning to raise the gas tax. We are not planning to raise the diesel tax in our plan,” Greitens said. “I think what needs to be done this year is to engage in our plan or some version of it that will help to cut taxes for 97 percent of Missourians.”

As noted in a recent post to pair a 12-cents per gallon fuel tax increase with the elimination of the lowest tier of state income tax in Mississippi, which has the nation's fourth lowest gas tax at 18.79-cents per gallon as of Jan. 2, hiking the gas tax after a significant state tax cut can be difficult.

The Mississippi gas tax increase has run into opposition from a gas tax supporter, no less, worried about the loss of revenue to the state's general fund. In 2016, Gov. Phil Bryant approved the state's largest tax cut in history, cutting income and corporate franchise taxes, similar to what Mo. Gov. Eric Greitens has proposed. Both governors are Republicans.

Missouri has an even lower gas tax than Mississippi. The 17.35-cents per gallon tax was last increased in 1996.

Any substantial gas or diesel tax increase would likely have to go to Missouri voters. Greitens didn’t necessarily rule out the idea of a fuel tax increase going to a statewide vote in the future.

Greitens, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, is new to state government, having replaced Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who supported a small increase in gas taxes, last year.

Hiking taxes, particularly fuel taxes, is difficult even for a seasoned politician, much less a freshman, illustrated by last year when the South Carolina legislature overrode the veto of freshman Gov. Henry McMaster (R), the former lieutenant governor and two-term state attorney general.

In May 2015, the Nebraska legislature approved a six-cents per gallon gas tax by overriding the veto of Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), who, like Greitens, was new to politics.

Will the Missouri legislature vote to put a fuel tax increase measure before voters this year over the likely objection of the governor? At least one legislator appeared not to rule out that option.

“Let me ask this: If we can’t even build roads and bridges anymore, then what the hell are we doing here in Jefferson City?” said state Rep. Greg Razer, a Democrat from Kansas City who was on a task force that recommended a fuel tax increase. “Hopefully the General Assembly can lead on this issue —because obviously Eric Greitens isn’t interested in that job.”

Hat tip to AASHTO Daily Transportation Update.

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Published on Thursday, February 8, 2018 in St. Louis Public Radio
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