January 17, 2017 10:30 AM, EST

Missouri Senate Fuel Tax Hike Sponsor Says It’s House’s Turn on Funding

A 5.9 cents per gallon fuel tax hike that had the support of then-Gov. Jay Nixon passed the Missouri Senate and two House committees last year, only to have the full lower chamber not even bring the bill up for a vote. With the 2017 legislative session underway in Jefferson City, 2016 chief Senate sponsor Doug Libla is discouraged that anything will happen this year either. Missouri’s taxes of 17 cents per gallon on diesel and gas haven’t been raised since 1996.

“In my estimation, the Missouri House is now in charge of funding our highways and bridges,” Libla told Transport Topics. “Since they decided they didn’t want to put forward a bill to allow the citizens of Missouri to determine whether or not they wanted to invest more in our roads and bridges, as far as I’m concerned, I’ve lateraled the football off to the House of Representatives. They didn’t like my idea enough to advance it so let’s see what plan they have. I’m sure we would’ve had the votes [to pass the full House]. A lot of representatives told me it was the No. 1 agenda item on Missourians’ minds.”

Tom Crawford, president of the Missouri Trucking Association, is just as pessimistic as Libla, even though 2016 bill supporter Glen Kolkmeyer has advanced from House Transportation Committee chairman to Majority Leader. Republican Eric Greitens has succeed Democrat Jay Nixon as Governor.

“In my early talks with Senators and folks on that half of the [Capitol], they feel like they gave it a shot last year so anything this year is going to have to start on the House side,” said Crawford, whose association supports up to a 15 cents per gallon hike. “And the folks on the House side have kind of been given a directive that any bill — let alone a tax increase — with fiscal [implications] will have a pretty difficult road to hoe. We have a Republican super-majority so what’s the likelihood that [they’re going to pass] one of the largest tax increases in Missouri’s history? That’s a nonstarter right now.”

Crawford noted that Greitens needs to balance a budget that’s estimated to be between $200 million and $700 million in the red for the rest of fiscal 2017.

“There’s still some belief that there are some efficiencies that can be found in the Department of Transportation,” Crawford said of the antitax Republicans. “You can find some savings, but I’ve been doing this a long time and I question whether you can find a significant amount.”

Libla agreed, saying that MODOT “has done such a great job the last six years of reducing expenses and being more productive.” Libla added that he has given Greitens plenty of food for thought about the need for higher fuel taxes and more highway funding.

“Rebuilding [Interstate] 70 is the big elephant,” said Libla, who remains on the Transportation Committee but is no longer chairman. “It’s 60 years old and we’re still running on the same two lanes [in parts] and a lot of the bridges are way past their design-build lifespan. Trucks have to go so many miles out of their way because of weight restrictions in northern Missouri. It comes down to ideology. How do some of these guys think the roads and bridges got built in the first place? It’s from a motor fuel user tax. But they sign these no-tax pledges. They keep trying to find a better mousetrap when we’ve had the perfect mousetrap for 92 years. General revenue funding doesn’t work and never will.”