Leonard at Large

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Election includes choice on Amendment 3

Content in a local paper, in my opinion, should be related to local items. Even though he proposed Amendment 3 is a statewide issue, the outcome will effect us in the local area.

For the past two years, there has been talk about the upcoming election.

Finally, it is only two weeks away. Most people have selected which candidates they will vote for, while some will not decide until they mark the ballot.

However, we generally do not hear much about many of the amendments or proposition -- although we heard much about the two amendments voted on in the primary.

Many voters when handed a ballot for an amendment may not know about the issue.

At a recent chamber of commerce luncheon, part of the program was on Amendment 3 and what it means for Missouri. There has been at least two news articles about the proposed amendment in the Nevada Daily Mail.

We can expect more will be said about it in the media, between now and the election.

I used to think think that all of the fuel tax goes toward roads. That's not so. A large portion of the funds are diverted into the general budget and used for other things. This includes the sales tax on cars. The state has diverted almost $2 billion in monies during the past 10 years that should have been going toward building and maintaining our roads. Instead, these funds were spent elsewhere.

Most people are aware of our bad roads. Although some may not be as aware of it, as it's not as obvious as the condition of the roads, many bridges are in bad condition.

Missouri's roads are ranked third from worst, with the highest percentage of poor or mediocre roads and the fourth highest percentage of unsafe bridges.

Missouri's substandard roads and bridges cost each Missouri driver an average of $936 per year -- $4.3 billion statewide. One person is killed every eight hours on Missouri roads -- a figure that's 18 percent higher than national average.

In 2003, there were 1,232 fatalities on Missouri roads. Even though the nation's traffic facility rate dropped to an all-time low, the Missouri rate increased by 2 percent from the previous year.

There are those who think eliminating the diversion will hurt some of the programs covered by the general budget. With Amendment 3, there would be an end to the diversion of approximately $30 million in gas taxes and $130 million in vehicle sales taxes annually.

In addition to ending the diversion, Amendment 3 would add funds to repair our roads. It would be used to finance more than $1 billion in maintenance and new road projects over the next four years.

Missouri voters do not like tax increases and have repeatedly said "no" to increasing taxes. They want to maximize what resources the state already has available.

This amendment restores diverted revenue to repair road and bridges without a tax increase.

According to the Committee To Improve Missouri's Roads and Bridges, the funding is already in place and has been for years. Amendment 3 simply puts existing tax revenues back into the state road fund where they belong, rather than asking voters for more money. This is considered a common-sense approach to improving our roads and bridges.

In a span of four years, Amendment 3 would phase out the diversion of more than $130 million in vehicle sales taxes. The redirected gas and vehicle sales tax revenue would be used to provide the financing over $1.35 billion in road bonds over the next four years.

This represents a 30 percent increase in road and bridge construction without raising taxes. The committee says that the redirected gas and vehicle sales tax revenue would not effect education funding or funding of other vital state services because in eight of the last 10 fiscal years, the amount of general revenue has increased by more than $295 million each year.

This redirection can be done from the growth in general revenue.

Amendment 3 keeps all the recently enacted statutes providing greater accountability to the Missouri Department of Transportation. It requires that newly redirected funds for bonds go through the state legislature, adding another level of accountability.

Last Spring more than 180,000 Missourians who were tired of the diversion of transportation tax dollars signed the petition last spring to put the Amendment on the ballot.

According to a poll taken in June, there were 71 percent supporting the Amendment with only 16 percent opposed. This was consistent in both rural and metro areas.

The funds will be used for maintenance and construction of bridges, funding the Missouri State Highway Patrol, which has been done in the past, and a portion to the Department of Revenue for handling the funds.

There are benefits, including economic benefits as result of the proposed Amendment. Of the additional funds 80 percent of the $148 billion worth of goods delivered annually from Missouri are transported on our state's highways and bridges.

Every dollar spent on highway improvements results in $5.40 in economic benefits according to the Federal Highway Administration.

It's estimated that vehicle travel in Missouri will increase by 50 percent over the next two decades. Also according to the Federal Highway Administration, 4,000 jobs in Missouri can be created for every $100 million spent on highway construction.

Much of this information came directly from the presentation to the chamber and from the brochure from the Committee to Improve Missouri Roads and Bridges.

For additional information, go to www.endthediversion.org on the Internet .

It is your choice -- be sure to vote yes or no on the amendment on Nov. 2.