Letter to the Editor

State fuel tax increase needed for roads, bridges

Saturday, May 2, 2015

To the editor:

The Vernon County Commission has sent letters of support to Sen. Ed Emory, as has the Chamber of Commerce. This is a bill that is supported by all commissioners, as well as cities, in the state, and if it is not passed, it will result in a monetary loss to all counties and cities for roads. The following letter to the editor by Sen. Doug Libla is being forwarded on the behalf of the Missouri Association of Counties.

Vernon County Commission

Letter to the Editor

by Sen. Doug Libla

Chairman, Senate Transportation Committee

Our state is facing two critical transportation issues:

* Missouri has thousands of bridges more than 50 years old; 1,600 of them are more than 75 years old! Approximately 6,300 of our bridges are obsolete and structurally deficient.

* In 2017, Missouri will no longer generate enough highway user revenue to access federal construction dollars that would otherwise be available to us.

This is why I sponsored Senate Bill 540. During public testimony on the bill heard April 1, 2015, by the Transportation, Infrastructure & Public Safety Committee, of which I am the chairman, there were 24 individuals and groups in support -- and ZERO in opposition. On April 8, SB 540 was unanimously voted out of committee.

On April 14, I presented SB 540 to the full senate. The bill called for a two-cent increase in the state's fuel tax beginning Jan. 1, 2016. The last increase was in 1992 and gradually phased in to the current level of 17 cents per gallon. This rate has remained the same for the last 20 years, while concrete, steel, labor, and other costs have increased dramatically. In 2015 dollars, 17 cents is now worth about eight cents in spending power. Counties and cities receive approximately 30 percent of this eight-cent value. That means the state's share is only 5.4 cents per gallon in terms of 2015 spending power.

The deteriorating condition of our roads and bridges should be a personal safety and economic concern to all Missourians. Our bridges are at risk of failing at any time. Just last week in Kansas City a bridge built in 1967 carrying thousands of vehicles per day at the I-70/I-35 interchange had to be closed for an undetermined amount of time for structural repairs. From an economic development standpoint, what company would want to locate or expand in Missouri?

They need reasonable assurance/expectation that our roads and bridges will be maintained and improved to meet their freight and distribution needs both now and in the future.

As if safety and economic worries weren't enough, our state faces a dwindling ability to use federal highway construction dollars. Missouri is allocated about $870 million per year of federal highway funds, but to get them, we have to be able to provide matching state funds. For every $4 of federal funds, we need to provide $1. If we can't, Missouri will be unable to claim the federal dollars.

Beginning in 2017, Missouri will no longer be able to match all of our federal construction dollars. Our federal fuel tax money will flow only in one direction -- toward Washington. We need to get this money back or it will be gone forever!

Since 1924 Missouri has funded its investment in highways through a fuel tax. This is still the best, most reliable and fairest form of highway maintenance revenue because highway users pay it. Approximately 50 percent of the fuel purchased in Missouri is bought by non-residents traveling through the state.

Unfortunately, SB 540 was ultimately filibustered by two senators the same day it was brought up for debate and action.

We need a transportation policy now or we can put our heads "back in the sand" expecting the problem to solve itself -- a policy that has been followed for the past 20 years. When the inevitable bridge closures occur, and highways continue deteriorating, what excuse will be acceptable to the citizens of this state?

We cannot say, "I didn't know." The people will know that we simply failed in our duty.