Missouri Highway Commissioner Says Fuel-Tax Increase Doubtful This Year


CLINTON, Mo. — Missouri Highway Commissioner Greg Smith told the Missouri Highway 13 Corridor Coalition not to expect a fuel-tax increase to pass the Legislature this year.

“I don't feel there's any way to get a fuel tax increase this year,” Smith said March 14. He encouraged coalition members attending the meeting to talk to their legislators.

If an increase is not passed this year, he said, the Legislature may pass it next year, which is not an election year.

“Maybe next year we can get more out of a new group of legislators,” he said.

A Senate bill that would increase the gasoline tax by 1½ cents and the diesel tax by 3½ cents would raise about $80 million for the Missouri Department of Transportation. After deducting 30% for cities and counties, Smith said, MoDOT would have about $56 million to spend on roads and bridges.

“It's not a fix,” he said. “It's a start in the right direction.”

He said increased revenues and the five-year federal highway bill will provide up to $860 million for roads and bridges by 2021.

But MoDOT “still has some issues,” he said. “Just being able to match federal funding was a big deal.”

Coalition Chairman Bill Bernier said the group has discussed a cost-share program as a way to fund improvements.

Smith said, “I would love to reinstate it, but the state has to be able to match funding. I don't see it in the next couple of years.”

Darin Hamelink, MoDOT Southwest District area engineer, said the agency previously allocated $40 million to $50 million per year for cost-share funding but decided to use the money to maintain the system.

Bernier noted the coalition has not taken a position on legislation, adding, “It's hard to ask legislators to take a stand when we're not willing to do so ourselves.”

Coalition member Bonnie Townsend said, “We have to take a stand and let them know how we feel.”

Coalition member Daniel Doll suggested sending a letter of support as a group and “say what we want and what we need.”

Bernier said increased funding can only come through the Legislature or by referendum.

“The last referendum was not supported,” he said. “I think it was about too many things, and it was submarined by the governor's decision to put it on the ballot before information could be disseminated.”

He said, “It's important to communicate to legislators that there are people in their district who are concerned.”

The proposed 1½-cent increase is not enough, Bernier said, “but it is a step.”

He added that coalition also should go on record as supporting the cost-share program.

Mike McGrath, Kansas City District area engineer, said most cost-share money goes to the larger cities. He said the program “takes away from other systems.”

McGrath said legislators he spoke with support a gas tax increase but want people to vote on the issue. He said a 2-cent increase is the maximum the Legislature can impose in any one year.

Johnson County presiding Commissioner Bill Gable said the coalition's letter should state that the coalition supports legislators who support adequate funding for the highway system.

Bernier said he would write a letter stating the coalition supports adequate funding for roads and bridges and encourages legislative support for the maximum increase in the fuel tax.

“We need to make the point that, for MoDOT to match federal dollars, MoDOT is going into its reserves, which is bad business," he said.