Business leaders pitch solutions, prod lawmakers on transportation infrastructure

Missouri business leaders on Wednesday urged a new task force charged with taking stock of the state’s transportation system to pursue all available options to find more funding for Missouri’s crumbling infrastructure.

Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna addressed the task force, painting the picture of an agency that was doing its best with limited resources but remained sorely underfunded.

The Missouri Department of Transportation is responsible for maintaining the seventh-largest road system in the nation. MoDOT services 34,000 miles of highways while relying on a 17-cent gasoline tax, which is one of the lowest in the country and has gone unchanged since 1996.

“One of the basic functions of government, at its core, is to provide infrastructure,” said Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, who serves as vice chair of the task force. “We have not kept up on that commitment to do that.”

Missouri voters and legislators have balked at the prospect of increased fuel taxes before. In April of this year, the House voted 103-51 against a bill that would have raised Missouri’s gas tax by nearly six cents.

On Wednesday, Ronald Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, presented a list of possible solutions to the state’s infrastructure woes.

One potential fix, he said, would be to institute a tax increase of up to 5 cents per gallon on all kinds of fuel, preferably implemented over a two-year period.

Increasing the federal motor fuel excise tax, taxing all vehicles under mileage-based fee and increasing license and registration fees are also measures Leone said the MPCA supported.

Leone also addressed funding solutions the MPCA does not support, including toll roads and bridges, and the implementation of a sales tax on wholesale motor fuel.

Jeff Glenn, executive director of the Mercury Alliance, a group supporting transportation business interests, said the task force must make sure that there was “sustainable and adequate funding for all modes of transportation.”

“The right option is that option that gains 50 percent plus one of either the general assembly vote or of the public opinion vote,” Glenn said.

Glenn did not say the groups he represented had any sense of what specific measures are needed to improve the status of Missouri’s transportation environment. “Our position is that all the funding options need to be on the table,” Glenn said. “Frankly, determining the solution is not our job.”

The task force will continue to meet over the next six months in cities across the state. A final report from the task force is due in January.

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