Primarily, the needed revenues for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDot) have been through fuel taxes, some federal funds and some fees from auto or other vehicle licensing. These taxes, especially the fuel tax, have been decreasing over the last several years, largely because of more fuel efficient cars and trucks. While this is a good thing for consumers, it has created a funding problem for building new roads as well as maintaining the existing ones. The cost of building and maintaining roads has gone up considerable while the fuel tax has decreased. Therefore, the General Assembly is looking for a revenue source for roads, not only to build new ones but also to keep existing ones in the best possible condition. Currently, Missourians pay 35.7 cents per gallon of gasoline and 41.7 cents for a gallon of diesel fuel in federal and state taxes—18.4 cents for federal tax on gasoline and 24.4 cents on diesel fuel and 17.3 cents for state tax on both types of fuel. As we looked into the problem of how to keep our state’s transportation moving forward, we found three possible ways to increase revenues: 1) add toll roads, 2) increase the fuel tax, or 3) increase sales tax.
The adding of toll roads in Missouri, especially I-70, I-44, I-55, and I-49 was discussed. Historically, toll roads in our state have been very unpopular, even to the point that no real consideration was given to this proposal. Increasing the state fuel tax to reach the required amount of money that is projected to be needed over the next ten years was considered. However, this would require nearly doubling the current 17.3 cents state fuel tax to approximately 34.6 cents, and funds brought in could only be used for the construction of new roads and bridges, not other means of transportation. The idea of doubling the state tax on a gallon of gasoline is also very unpopular. The third proposal was to increase sales tax. House Joint Resolution 68 which will be Constitutional Amendment #7 on the ballot, the legislative referendum to increase sales tax by ¾ of a cent, seemed most workable, and revenues obtained in this manner may be used in all forms of transportation. This option also seemed the most fair, as everyone benefits in some way from road use, either in the form of travel or by purchasing goods carried over those roads. This was the most favorable choice.
Amendment #7, if passed, would yield approximately $534 million per year—$5.3 billion over ten years--to be used for various forms of transportation. The proposal would have a ten-year sunset and, as previously mentioned, would exempt the taxing of foods, medicines, and gasoline. Over the ten-year period of this amendment, MoDot would receive $4.8 billion and cities and counties would receive approximately $540 million. This is the proposal we decided to put before voters.
If passed, what will this new tax do for Southwest Missouri and specifically Neosho and Newton County? The projected funding for the Southwest district of MoDot (a twenty-one county area) is $588 million from existing funding sources and $643 million from the proposed new sales tax. This area will receive approximately 15% of the new state-wide sales tax revenue, a portion that will allow for a significant impact to be made on transportation in our locale for things like the OATS buses, the Joplin Trolley, and the Joplin and Neosho airports. Joplin would receive enough money to build ten new hangers, while Neosho would receive money to build one box hanger and new taxiways. The city of Neosho would receive $810,000 over the next ten years to be used on city streets, while Newton County would receive $2.9 million for roads and bridges.
Interstate 70 is perhaps the most heavily traveled Interstate in Missouri but is in need of major repairs. If Constitutional Amendment #7 is approved by voters, one of MoDot’s top priorities will be the rebuilding of I-70 from St. Louis to Kansas City, making it into a six-lane Interstate. Cost for this project is expected to be approximately $1.5 billion and will have some federal money and some bonding revenue to help cover expenses.
While this transportation plan for our state was put together and approved by Missouri’s General Assembly, it will be Missouri’s voters who determine its ultimate fate.