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What's Next for Missouri After Voters Reject Sales Tax Measure?

In the wake of the decisive rejection of a ballot measure on August 5 to raise the state sales tax by .75% for a package of transportation improvements, how will the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) meet the state's transportation needs?
August 8, 2014, 12pm PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"Transportation officials had big plans for the nearly half-a-billion dollars a year [for 10 years] that would have been raised by a higher sales tax," writes KMOX reporter Brett Blume.

As noted here after the election, revenue was slated for 800 projects statewide, with 10 percent in the St. Louis region. Now MoDOT will use existing revenue for maintenance, according to Greg Horn, St. Louis District Engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation, who notes "that money will be depleted in three years unless new funding sources are found."

One of the major projects that would have been funded if Amendment 7 had passed was a complete rebuild of Interstate 270 in North County, one of the region’s oldest and most dilapidated corridors. Other projects put on hold include a new interchange at Interstates 70 and 170 and bus rapid transit for Metro.

"(L)awmakers will have to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to fix the state’s transportation infrastructure, most notably a plan to rebuild Interstate 70," writes Jason Hancock for The Kansas City Star.

One option they might consider is "going back to the legislature for a gas tax hike," favored by Tom Shrout with Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions, the group that opposed Amendment 7, according to a staff report by KMOX.

“I don’t know if it’s going to go that way or not, but it’s something that ought to be on the table and legislators ought to give serious consideration to it,” he says.

Considering that Missouri has the nation's 46th lowest gas tax at 17.30 cents [PDF] and it's been over 18 years since it was last increased, according to this chart from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Shrout's suggestion would appear to have merit.

St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay’s chief of staff, Jeff Rainford, apparently wasn't listening. "We’re kind of back to the drawing board in Missouri,” says Slay. “I don’t know that anybody has any bright ideas," he adds.

He says voters, along with not liking the sales tax, also don’t seem to like toll roads or gas taxes.

Results from a new AP-GfK poll confirm his opinion, though it dealt with federal, not state funding of transportation. Raising the gas tax, for example, received the least amount of support of the four options, only 14 percent. However, the most favored option, albeit with only 30 percent, was turning responsibility over to states, i.e. devolution, which judging by Tuesday's results, would not appear to work well in Missouri.

The other two options were a mileage-based user fee and having private companies build new roads and bridges and recouping their investment with tolls.

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Published on Thursday, August 7, 2014 in KMOX
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