By Garrett Hawkins, President of Missouri Farm Bureau
Rural residents and farmers understand the importance of good roads and bridges. It’s the reason why Missouri Farm Bureau has long supported essential funding for our state and local highway infrastructure. This support goes as far back as the “Get Missouri Out of the Mud” campaign 100 years ago this decade when the state’s first fuel tax was enacted.
Today Missouri’s fuel tax is 17 cents per gallon and was last increased in the 1990s. Only Alaska has a lower fuel tax. Missouri has the seventh-largest state highway system in the nation, and just four states have less available highway revenue per mile. Our state also ranks third nationally in the lowest administrative costs per mile. Any way you look at it, Missouri motorists get a pretty good bang for our buck.
MoDOT estimates that since the last time the fuel tax was raised, the purchasing power of that 17 cents has dropped to six cents while the costs of asphalt, concrete and steel have increased 200 to 300 percent. It is also estimated that the average Missourian pays about $30 per month in state and federal transportation taxes and fees – far less than the cost of cable television.
Our members have traditionally preferred the “pay as you go” approach that is reflected in the fuel tax. They also recognize when the tax is paid at the pump, it not only is used to finance the state highway system, but also helps pay for local roads and bridges.
During this session of the Missouri General Assembly, a novel plan is progressing that would increase needed highway and bridge funding but at the same time allows individuals to receive a refund if they do not want to pay the additional fuel tax.
Under legislation approved by the Missouri Senate and pending in the Missouri House, the state fuel tax would increase by 12.5 cents per gallon over a five-year period. All of the additional revenues would go towards roads and bridges, with 70 percent earmarked to the state, 15 percent to cities and 15 percent to counties.
What makes the legislation unique is that motorists could ask for a refund of the increased fuel tax by providing written verification of the amount paid. A similar law was passed a few years ago in South Carolina and has proven effective.
At a time when highway asphalt is crumbling, potholes are everywhere, many bridges are in bad shape and road shoulders are deteriorating, Missouri needs a larger investment in our highway and bridge system. Missouri Farm Bureau policy calls for a reasonable funding approach, and the legislation approved by the Missouri Senate is a major step in that direction. We urge the Missouri House of Representatives to take favorable action as well.