Missouri panel seeks higher transportation funding

Posted: Jan. 9, 2013 10:04 am Updated: Jan. 30, 2013 11:15 am

Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri needs an additional $600 million to $1 billion annually to pay for improvements to the state's transportation system, a task force said in a report released Tuesday.

The transportation panel's leaders said the Blue Ribbon Citizens Committee on Missouri's Transportation Needs decided not to suggest a specific funding plan. Instead, the committee pointed to several options lawmakers could consider, including bonds, toll roads, increasing the state sales tax or raising the fuel tax.

"We need to take care of the system that we have," said Bill McKenna, one of the chairmen of the blue ribbon committee and a former member of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. "We've got a huge investment here in the state of Missouri."

McKenna said Missouri's transportation system is large and includes roads, bridges, rail, ports and public transportation. The 22-member committee was created in March 2012 by then-House Speaker Steven Tilley. It was led by McKenna, a Democrat and former Senate president pro tempore, and former Republican House Speaker Rod Jetton.

Current House Speaker Tim Jones said Missouri's transportation system is the "lifeblood of our commerce system." He said the Republican-led House could explore revenue-neutral ways to boost transportation funding and bonds. He also suggested existing state funds could be shifted.

"There's plenty of government that can still be cut," said Jones, R-Eureka. "We're faced every year with an ever-increasing, bloating entitlement system. I'd rather spend the money on education, roads and bridges and less on entitlements."

The Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association would prefer a 1-cent sales tax increase, said the group's executive director, Ron Leone. With a sales tax, everyone would help pay for the infrastructure from which they all benefit, he said.

In its report, the committee estimated a 1-cent sales tax increase would generate $700 million annually in revenue. It said to raise that same amount of money a fuel tax would need to be increased by 20 to 30 cents, which members believe could not pass the Legislature.

Hannibal businessman Tom Boland, a former chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, has lobbied for completion of the U.S. 61 relocation at Hannibal and other priorities in Northeast Missouri.

He said funding always is an issue for transportation projects and he has seen no indication that state lawmakers are willing to support a tax increase.

Herald-Whig Senior Writer Doug Wilson provided information for this story.