Next week, Missouri voters will get to decide on a 10 cents per gallon gas tax increase, the first in the state since voters last approved an increase in 1996. If passed, Proposition D: The Gas Tax Increase, Olympic Prize Tax Exemption, and Traffic Reduction Fund Measure is expected to generate $288 million in revenue annually – with most of it going to state law enforcement and the rest to road construction and maintenance.
As part of the 2018 St. Louis Public Radio "Inform Your Vote" ballot issues forum, Scott Charton, SaferMO.com communications director, and Gwen Moore, a retired University of Missouri-St. Louis professor, debated the pros and cons of Prop D.
Each panelist provided opening remarks before Marsh moderated an in-depth debate between the two. Each argument is summarized below.
Charton made the case for passing the measure, describing Prop D as a means to raise funds to repair and maintain roads.
“Missouri last raised its state and motor fuel tax in 1996. It was set at 17 cents a gallon for gas and diesel. Twenty-two years have passed, but we know that 22 years have met inflation,” Charton said. “Inflation has eaten away at that 17 cents, today it’s worth about 7 cents of purchasing power … now we know at the same time over that same period, that asphalt, steel, concrete – the basic components that go on road and bridges – have double and tripled in price. We all rely on good roads and bridges: We rely on them for mass transit, for buses, first responders, for police, fire and ambulance. We rely on them for school buses to transport our children safely.”
Charton’s major points in favor of Prop D were as follows:
- “What we’re doing with Prop D is that 17 cents that we now charge for the state motor fuel tax … a portion of that already goes to the highway patrol … We’re providing this new stream of new money, this new 10 cents that’s gradually phased in, that will be designated just for road enforcement functions of the highway patrol, [so] when they receive that funding, they’re no longer tapping the current 17 cents. That frees up all that money to be used for roads and bridges.”
- “Over a 10-year-period with Prop D, existing transportation revenue plus new revenue [will] generate nearly $3.2 billion for MoDOT’s St. Louis district. That’s going to allow 331 bridge replacements … total replacement or repair projects, and it will keep 3,700 highway lane miles in the St. Louis district in good condition.”
- “The two biggest economic sectors in Missouri are agriculture and tourism ... farm-to-market roads fuel our economy.”
- “St. Louis County will get $16.7 million in new money every year with full funding of Prop D. St. Louis City $6 million, Jefferson County $3.2 million, St. Charles County $6.3 million.”
Moore made the case for defeating Prop D, calling the ballot measure “unfair” for St. Louisans.
“Missouri’s gas tax is totally unfair, especially in St. Louis. Over the last three years, the St. Louis five-county area was underfunded by more than $500 million. The Brookings Institute named us urban donors because ‘the distribution of the gas tax in Missouri penalizes cities, suburbs and urban areas. These areas contribute significantly more in tax receipts than they receive in allocations from their state’s highway fund or through direct local transfers.’”
Moore’s major points in opposition to Prop D were as follows:
- “Over the most recent 10 years, 72 percent of the bridges repaired or replaced were rural, yet the majority of the bridges still requiring repair were urban … MoDOT doesn’t spend the money where it’s needed, where the traffic is.”
- “I agree [that roads] need to be improved, but we’ve got to fix the system. We’re still funding the farm-to-market system that existed back in the 1950s. … [Missouri’s] economy is not agriculture … Our economy is here in St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia – it’s in the cities.”
- Moore advocates for changing parts of the Missouri Constitution. “It’s illegal [in the state constitution] to subsidize mass transit. Most states, like Illinois, spend 15 to 20 percent of the gas tax to subsidize transit. You want people off the roads and on to buses, but not in Missouri. Illinois sends $116 per person of the counties in Illinois the bi-state serves [to transit]. Guess how much is sent by the state of Missouri? 16 cents [because they can’t use the gas tax].”
- “[Something] that goes wrong with funding rural county roads [is that the] federal government doesn’t subsidize rural county roads. So those roads cost Missouri five times as much as other roads, interstates and all of that, [and] over the last three years, MoDOT underfunded the five-county-areas – St. Louis City, St. Louis County, Franklin, St. Charles and Jefferson County – by $525 million.”
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.