Transportation stakeholders discuss infrastructure funding with state officials
Transportation stakeholders and partners from the southwest Missouri region joined state officials on April 8 for the Chamber’s virtual Transportation Advocacy Day to discuss progress on passing long-term transportation infrastructure funding for Missouri.
Sens. Dave Schatz and Lincoln Hough and Rep. Crystal Quade were joined by Jeff Earl, legislative director for Gov. Mike Parson, to highlight current legislative efforts to support transportation funding. They also discussed their cautious optimism and potential challenges transportation funding may face in the final weeks before session concludes.
Sen. Hough (R-Springfield) outlined the current landscape around the transportation discussion, as his service on both the Senate budget and transportation committees gives him a unique insight into the crafting of Missouri’s budget and what each dollar will fund, including in areas like transportation.
“My role, specifically on the budget committee, is to be the best advocate for Springfield, Missouri,” Hough said.
And for Hough, funding transportation infrastructure is not only a necessity for the southwest Missouri region, but for the entire state.
This focus on a long-term funding solution includes a proposal currently moving through the legislative process to increase the state’s motor fuel tax.
SB 262 is sponsored by Sen. Schatz, who is in his 11th year in the state legislature and currently serves as the Senate President Pro Tem. His bill would increase the motor fuel tax by 2.5 cents each year for five years, until the total gas tax reaches 29.5 cents per gallon. Rep. Becky Ruth, chair of the House Transportation Committee, sponsored a similar increase proposal which has not seen movement this session.
Although efforts to raise the gas tax in the state legislature have been proposed for many years, these bills offer an additional creative solution.
Modeled after a similar tax in South Carolina, taxpayers would be able to apply for a refund of their increased motor fuel tax. If the South Carolina model is any indicator, only a small percentage of people will apply for this refund, allowing most of the generated revenue to go toward investment in Missouri’s roads and bridges.
For Schatz, the idea of using general revenue to fund transportation is not a way to build or maintain a transportation network, making his bill to increase the motor fuel tax, with a rebate option, the most creative and likely way to get transportation funding across the finish line.
SB 262 was approved in the Senate and awaits consideration of the full House. The path forward for a gas tax increase has additional challenges among the House of Representatives, and Rep. Crystal Quade gave participants insight into the landscape for this legislation’s success.
“It will take a lot of work from both sides of the aisle to make sure we can get this across the finish line,” Quade said. “But the reality is we have to do something.”
Quade mentioned there are several issues the legislature can address regarding increased transportation support. She hopes to encourage her colleagues to view infrastructure from a broad perspective and consider the positive impacts of not only fixing Missouri’s road and bridges but creating jobs and supporting the state’s workforce.
Earl, the governor’s legislative director, noted that both workforce development and transportation infrastructure have been top priorities for Gov. Parson since the beginning of his time in office. This included the 2019 passage of one-time general revenue funds for bridge repairs across the state, including the replacement or rehabilitation of 23 bridges in Greene County.
Earl said the Governor’s office is encouraged by the progress this session and hopes this is the year a long-term transportation funding solution will make it to the Governor’s desk.
Thank you to our Presenting Sponsor, Emery Sapp & Sons, and our Gold Sponsors: Crawford, Murphy & Tilly, Ozarks Transportation Organization, Terracon, Southwest Missouri Council of Governments, and Berry Tractor.