Tough Votes Before Mid-Term Recess
The 2021 legislative session has reached the half-way point. In this last week prior to our mid-term recess, the Senate buckled down to make progress on a number of contentious issues. Two bills we worked on this week related to taxes. As someone who has long argued for lower taxes, I found myself in the unusual position of supporting a fuel tax increase and opposing an elimination of the personal property tax. I’d like to use my column this week to explain both positions.
One of the most daunting issues before the General Assembly in recent years has been funding for roads and bridges. Senate Bill 262 seeks to address persistent funding shortfalls that have caused the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) to postpone maintenance projects and forgo improvements to our roadways. According to the department, more than $800 million in high-priority transportation projects are unfunded.
Missouri’s current 17.4 cents per gallon tax rate is the second-lowest in the country, according to the American Petroleum Institute. This is despite the fact that we have the seventh largest road system in the United Sates. Our 24-year-old gas tax rate simply has not kept up with the cost of building and maintaining roads. To make matters worse, while inflation eats away at our state highway department’s purchasing power, cars have become more efficient so motorists buy less gas than they did when our current tax was enacted.
Senate Bill 262 would gradually increase the tax Missourians pay at the pump by 2.5 cents per gallon each year until 2025, when the tax would peak at 29.9 cents. Unlike previous transportation funding proposals, SB 262 includes a unique rebate provision. Motorists who choose to keep receipts for gasoline purchased for highway use in passenger vehicles and trucks under 26,000 pounds may request a full refund of the additional taxes paid. This provision essentially eliminates the tax increase for motorists who prefer not to pay more into the road fund.
I dislike taxes as much as anyone, but I believe it’s time to increase funding for Missouri’s roads and bridges. I supported the Prop D gas tax proposal in 2018 and, as a citizen, voted to increase my own gas tax. As a senator, and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, I believe ensuring a sound transportation infrastructure system is vital to our state’s economy. I believe passage of Senate Bill 262 will provide the necessary funding to ensure our infrastructure is adequate for our needs today and in the future.
The other tax measure before the Senate this week relates to personal property taxes. Senate Bill 24, which was brought up for perfection on Monday, would gradually eliminate personal property taxes in Missouri. It’s hard to deny the appeal of this proposal. After all, who likes getting a tax bill right before Christmas? I don’t like personal property taxes either, but when the time came to advance SB 24, I added my voice to those opposing the bill.
Personal property taxes are a primary source of revenue for our local schools. Taxes on vehicles and other tangible items also pay for local law enforcement, fire protection and many other essential services. Small towns and rural areas are especially dependent on personal property taxes. There simply isn’t enough money raised from sales taxes in these areas to make up for the loss of revenue that would result from passage of SB 24. I will not support something that I feel will be detrimental to our rural communities.
Let me be clear. I support the elimination of personal property taxes in principle, but I can’t support this proposal until we have some other way to fund our schools, libraries and local public safety. If the legislation had a clear plan to pay for essential services and provide a quality education for our children without taxing my vehicle, I’m all for it. Until then, I believe I have no choice but to oppose this bill.
It’s my honor to serve as your senator for the 16th District. If you have questions or need any assistance, please call my office at 573-751-5713 or log onto my webpage at https://www.senate.mo.gov/brown for more information.