A 1-cent sales tax dedicated for transportation proposed Thursday by the chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission would mean a boost in funding received in Northeast Missouri, according to Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT).
"The Northeast District would stand to receive about $241 million in addition to what it receives today," said MoDOT spokesman Bob Brendel from Jefferson City.
Commission chairman Rudy Farber says the tax, that would sunset after 10 years unless re-approved by voters, would generate an estimated $7.9 billion over a decade's time. The revenue would be spread among the state, counties and cities.
About $1 billion of the funds raised would be set aside for major work on I-70, which would include adding an eastbound and westbound lane between Independence in suburban Kansas City and Wentzville. Last year's proposal to implement tolling along I-70 to help pay for that highway's upgrades has apparently been left by the side of the road.
"There was not a lot of support for tolling," said Brendel. "Even if the reception had been better that would have only dealt with one facility. Tolling would only be appropriate for certain projects. It would not help our overall system to the same degree that a 1-cent sales tax might."
On Wednesday in Jefferson City, a bonding possibility was raised by House Speaker Tim Jones. Part of the revenue raised through the issuance of bonds would be designated for transportation.
"We wouldn't turn down any source of revenue," said Brendel, when asked about the bonding option.
MoDOT officials have been warning of an approaching funding crisis since the mid 2000s. After hearing the warnings for over half a decade, has the awareness of Missouri voters risen regarding the lack of funding for transportation?
"I think there is a greater realization that we have been under-investing in transportation in Missouri for a long time," said Brendel. "Transportation has the ability to create a lot of jobs and to make our businesses competitive in a global economy. I think that realization has settled in a lot more with Missourians in recent years than it did previously."
John Ravenscraft, chairman of the Hannibal Area Chamber of Commerce's Transportation Committee, says it comes down to which is worse for the local economy – a higher sales tax or a deteriorating infrastructure system.
"The impact upon the economy could be a lot worse if we don't do anything at all," he said. "Not only would new construction projects and maintaining the roads by private contractors be a good thing for our economy, better roads bring more people through our state. That's a positive, especially here in Hannibal where we need good roads to bring people in for our tourism."
The plan outlined by Farber calls for freezing the state gas tax rate, which at 17.3 cents per gallon ranks 45th in the nation, and requiring the transportation commission to develop and publish a list of specific projects and timelines before voters would consider approving the sales tax.
Page 2 of 2 - The sales tax would not be levied on medicine and groceries.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)