Missouri’s crazy-low gas taxes may soon be a thing of the past thanks to this infrastructure improvement proposal

Missouri’s gas taxes are currently the second lowest in the nation, but lawmakers say that may have to change if residents want functional roadways.

A possible proposal may soon raise gas taxes in Missouri in order to pay for ‘necessary’ infrastructure repairs throughout the state, lawmakers say. 

Missouri lawmakers are scheduled to go into session next month, and a gas tax proposal hiking up gas taxes across the state may soon be sent out to voters as a result. 

Experts and politicians alike say that Missouri’s roadways and bridges are in serious need of repair, and a gradual hike in gas taxes may be the most effective way of making the improvements. 

Currently, Missouri has some of the lowest gas taxes in the country – second only to Alaska – and the lowest revenue-per-mile of highway in the entire midwest; an equation not very conducive to maintaining Missouri’s status as the seventh largest highway system in the country. 

Just last year, Missouri lawmakers agreed on a bridge-specific infrastructure program dubbed “Focus on Bridges,” which allocated $50 million to fix 45 of Missouri’s bridges by the end of this year, but it just wasn’t enough. Parson says Missouri’s roadways are still in “critical” need of attention. 

Because of this, Senate President David Schatz filed two proposals on Thursday, December 3rd, which would increase Missouri’s gas tax by two cents per year over a period of five years for a total 27 cent increase. This increase would make Missouri’s gas taxes comparable to those of neighboring Tennessee and Kentucky. While a definite raise, this tax increase would still land Missouri gas prices far below high-fuel-tax states such as Illinois and Pennsylvania. 

 Despite the need for funding in the repair of Missouri’s roadways, lawmakers worry the voting public, and other lawmakers, will not accept these “tough” but “necessary” proposals.

“There’s so much misinformation out there on road funding and stuff, and it just worries me to death,” said Doug Libla, a Republican Representative from Poplar Bluff, who also pointed out the I-70 Missouri River bridge near Rocheport which is currently under repair for $240 million, inconveniencing thousands of drivers a day. 

“We’ve got our money’s worth out of that bridge [built in 1960,]” Libla said. “The deal is, it’s affecting us big time. Now they’re closing the bridge for 30 days. You know, we’re just wasting money left and right on detours, truck traffic and so on and so forth.”

Still, despite the need for infrastructure repair, lawmakers are hesitant about the new tax-fuel plan after a similar proposal in 2018 didn’t go over so well with voters. 

The 2018 initiative would have raised fuel taxes and put the funds towards infrastructure repairs and the Missouri Highway Patrol, but Libla says it “went down miserably” with voters. Four years prior to that, voters also rejected a sales tax proposal that was intended to fund 800 Missouri Department of Transportation projects. In fact, Missouri hasn’t raised their gas taxes since 1996, and since then inflation rates have gone up 66%. 

“I don’t think there’s enough courage anymore,” Libla said. 

“They [lawmakers] always say, well, the voters, they have decided not to raise the motor fuel user tax.”

But MDOT says that Missouri roadways need some serious attention and the state has to find a way to address it, regardless of voter preference, and the funding cuts due to the pandemic haven’t helped. 

“These aren’t wants, these are needs,” Ed Hassinger, MoDOT’s deputy director and chief engineer told reporters at Springfield News-Leader. “We have some of the most connected parts of the country as it relates to roads, rails and rivers, but if we don’t make the investment to do those things and make those things work and bring economic activity to this state, we’ve really lost an opportunity.” 

“What we’ll be doing is we’ll be managing the decline of the system to the best ability we can, if we don’t do something on the revenue front.”

Although it may not be obvious to the typical motorist, the 52% of Missouri roadways rated as “poor” or “mediocre” in condition are actually costing them money. 

Between the wear to vehicles, time spent in traffic, and the prevalence of accidents on these “super dangerous” roadways, the average Missouri driver is spending $762 on vehicle wear and tear such as tires or brakes and countless hours in traffic. Drivers in the Columbia-Jefferson City area spend an average of 23 hours per year sitting in traffic, with a whopping 34 hours per year spent in traffic in Springfield. This adds up to an equivalent cost somewhere between $461 and $695 respectively; and the cost is even higher in Kansas City and St. Louis. 

As compared to much of the country, Missouri is impeccably efficient and responsible in its use of funds, so lawmakers have hope that even the smallest increase in funding could go a long way for improvements. 

“Missouri does a really good job in our report because of overall low cost and overall good pavement quality,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, author of a new ranking of U.S. states according to cost-effectiveness and “highway performance.”

“But that doesn’t mean there might not be other needs in the system and that doesn’t mean that there’s not a case for Missouri to tax for other needs, especially because the system they’re running right now is so efficient.”

“New Jersey spends a lot of money,” Feigenbaum said, “and has terrible pavement conditions. We sort of feel like New Jersey needs to get its house in order before they have any type of tax increase. Whereas Missouri, which is clearly being very efficient, you could make the argument that it’s a well-run state DOT, and if there are legitimate needs, the state is a little bit more trustworthy to go ahead and spend the money wisely than some other states out there.”