Sen. Dave Schatz’s Weekly Column for Jan. 21

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It is no secret that funding for our state’s roads and bridges has been a cause for concern for Missourians. Lawmakers have worked to fund the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) at a level that will not only support the development of new roads and bridges, support the growth of new forms of transportation across the state, but also restore and maintain funding for the vital maintenance and repairs of existing roads and bridges.

There has been much talk about how to restore and maintain funding for MoDOT. In August 2014, Missouri voters struck down the ¾ of a cent sales tax, which would have raised around five billion dollars over 10 years. While I supported this referendum, the voters of the state did not agree with this approach.

This means the “fix” is left up to lawmakers. Currently, there are as many as five pieces of legislation filed in both the House and Senate that aim to solve the funding issue for MoDOT. Many believe that the fuel tax must be increased to provide a feasible solution to this problem that affects the safety of each Missouri driver on a daily basis.

Missouri’s current 17 cent fuel tax (47th in the nation) was set in 1992. However, due to inflation, 17 cents in 1992 is now only worth eight cents today. Asphalt, concrete and steel have increased in price by as much as 200 percent. In the last few years, as vehicles become more fuel efficient, we see many drivers purchasing less fuel. Simply put, the purchasing power of the fuel sales tax has greatly diminished over the last 20 years.

In Missouri there are approximately 34,000 miles of roadway (7th in the nation). Of those, 8,000 miles are considered primary roads that connect cities. The remaining 26,000 miles are supplementary roads that are traveled by large numbers of people on a daily basis. These roads are in the most danger as we face 2017 with a $325 million construction budget. The entire $325 million could be used to maintain primary roads only. It is estimated that in 10 years more than 18,000 miles of the state’s supplementary roads will be in poor condition. If no solution is found we will be forced to make tough choices as construction prices rise and the purchasing power of our sales tax continues to diminish as it does each year and as it has done for many years.

I am supporting a proposed gas and diesel tax increase as one potential solution to the funding shortfall that our roads and bridges face. With gas prices as low as they have been in years, I feel that a 1.5 cent increase in the gas tax is appropriate. This will not generate enough revenue to solve all our transportation needs, but it is a start.

I do not consider this a “hike” as we are still well below the purchasing power of 17 cents in 1992. The safety of our roads and bridges, the safety of our drivers, and the economic lifeblood of our state are at stake here. Missouri runs on its roads and bridges and it is part of my job to ensure that our state’s highway system continues to function properly. I will not shy away from that responsibility.

Thank you for reading this weekly column. Please contact my office at (573) 751-3678 if you have any questions.