The 1/10 of a cent soil and water and Missouri parks tax has a ten year sunset and is due to be renewed this year. This sales tax is vital to help maintain and fund two of our state’s largest and most important industries. It generates approximately $78 million annually, with half of that amount going to the Missouri parks and the other half going to the soil and water districts. The tax is a specific tax and cannot be re-appropriated for any other purpose, meaning it can only be used for its designated intent. Our state parks receive roughly 75% of their funding from the parks portion of this tax and about 25% comes from grants, user fees, and federal funds. Today, Missouri has 53 state parks and 34 historic sites that cover approximately 200,000 acres. Both the Missouri parks system and the soil and water districts are under the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
As early as 1907 Missouri lawmakers began introducing legislation to create a system of state parks; their efforts to do so were some of the earliest in the nation. In 1916, the National Park Service came into existence with the intent to oversee the creation of national sites. They also gave individual states guidance and assistance in helping them to set up their own park system.
The soil and water districts were born out of the of the 1930s, when the Dust Bowl devastation ravaged Missouri and the heartland of America. At that time, the Congress of the U.S. realized the detrimental effects of soil erosion and began to work on and pass federal legislation to address the problem of how to better manage and conserve our nation’s soil. The majority of the soil and water portion of the 1/10 cent sales tax has been used to assist land owners through volunteer cost-sharing programs that are administered by the local soil and water conservation district boards in each of Missouri’s 114 counties.
Despite the federal program, Missouri was still plagued with high rates of erosion as late as the 1980s. In 1982, we were losing soil at an annual rate of 10.75 tons per acre on cultivated farmland. In the early 1980s, prior to the passage of this tax in 1984 and the introduction of specific conservation programs, we had the nation’s second highest rate of erosion and knew the problem needed immediate attention. Consequently, over the last thirty years, and with the newly available funding, a major change in farming practices has been embraced: land terracing was introduced, waterways were put in to help prevent run off water from entering streams, highly erodible land was put into permanent grassland, individual farmers worked together to form a conservation plan for their acreage, and farming practices for highly erodible land were studied and new techniques were adopted. Today, many farmers are using minimum tillage practices in efforts to do everything possible to prevent erosion of the land. And the results are impressive.
Since 1982, our state’s erosion rate has dropped from one of the highest to one of the lowest in the nation. With an estimated 148 million tons of soil saved since the start of the soil, water, and park tax came into existence, it is clear this is a highly successful endeavor on the part of our state’s conservationists and farmers. As one of the most popular programs in Missouri, every time the tax has some up for renewal, it has been overwhelmingly approved.
Missouri voters will again have the opportunity to extend the 1/10 of a cent state sales tax in either August or November, on whichever ballot the governor chooses to place it.