MoDOT's Draft Long-Range Plan - But How to Fund It?
November 11, 2013
MoDOT released its draft long-range (20-year) transportation plan on November 7 and public comment is invited.
The plan evolved out of 232 listening sessions held in every county around the state, and resulted in a list of thousands of potential projects. Trouble is, if they try to do everything, it'll cost over $70 billion, and MoDOT expects to have only $17 billion to spend over the next 20 years.
An effort by Missouri Transportation Alliance to get additional revenue for transportation has been underway for some time. That effort failed in the General Assembly in May, and the focus has shifted to an initiative petition campaign sponsored by Missourians for Safe Transportation and New Jobs. Petition language has been filed with the Secretary of State and the group is raising money for a campaign, with a decision expected in January.
The cost of such a campaign is not insignificant. One senior MoDOT official told us the current estimate is $8 million, of which $2 million would be needed just to gather the 150+ thousand signatures needed.
Because the intended source is a one-cent increase in the sales tax, opposition is already emerging. The Kansas City Star has editorialied:
and Tony Messenger of the Post-Dispatch recently tweeted his concern.
The Missouri Association for Social Welfare announced opposition to the proposal in a statement released October 28:
“MASW and many other social justice organizations will vigorously oppose this petition initiative that would make Missouri’s already unfair tax system even worse,” said Jeanette Mott Oxford, executive director of MASW. “We will inform Missourians of the impact of the one-cent sales and use tax increase should supporters attempt to move forward with the signature-gathering process, and we will invite others to join us in mounting a ‘decline to sign’ campaign.”
At the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission meeting on November 7 in Kansas City, Mell Henderson of Mid-America Regional Council made a presentation on the Kansas City region's planning processes. Included in his presentation were these significant words: "...we have some concerns about reliance on a sales tax..." for transportation.
Another presenter expressed concern in more direct language. Excerpts from his prepared statement:
"...[T]he big issue of the day is how to pay for [MoDOT's new long-range plan]. A sales tax has being proposed. I suggest that's the wrong approach. The Kansas City Star [opposed it] in an editorial a few days ago, [and] Tony Messenger at the Post-Dispatch has also expressed that sentiment, ....
"The proposed tax would take the next increment of the sales tax, a general revenue source, and use it all for transportation. Nothing for K-12 or higher ed or corrections or assistance to the needy. ... I suggest that it's profoundly wrong to prioritize highways above all other state needs.
"The sales tax idea comes from an independent group, but it's bound to be widely attributed to MoDOT ... [and] the word on the street will be that MoDOT wants to raise the sales tax, and they want it all for highways. That's not precisely true, of course, but that's the way it'll come across.
"That ... should concern you.
"I realize that you [won't decide] whether a petition campaign will go forward, but I suspect you know people who will make that decision. I ask that you ask them to re-think the whole thing, and to give the General Assembly another shot at it...."
The speaker didn't mention the fact that Missouri's gas tax and other user fees are among the lowest in the nation.
A small sales tax might make sense for transit and passenger rail and other non-highway transportation needs, and one might hope that could be part of a broader initiative to raise money for other important state programs. But highway needs should be financed from a higher motor fuel tax (administered as a sales tax or at least indexed to inflation), and other user fees such as tolls on "freeways," our costliest highways.
So here's the dilemma: Are Missouri's transportation needs so great that the petition sponsors are willing to risk a costly initiative petition campaign for a transportation-only sales tax when well-reasoned opposition is already being expressed? And is MoDOT willing to risk its good reputation by being associated with such an effort?
November 11, 2013