JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – The Missouri Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would raise the state’s fuel tax by nearly six cents per gallon to pay for road and bridge projects.
Bill sponsor Sen. Doug Libla has said Missouri’s infrastructure needs drastic repairs the state cannot currently afford. About 640 of the state’s bridges are in critical condition and more than 1,300 have weight restrictions, while more than one in 10 of Missouri’s major roads are in poor condition.
Senators voted 21-10 to pass the legislation, which would bring in an estimated $165 million a year for the state and about $71 million for local governments. The bill now awaits action in the House, and it would also require voter approval.
Some Republicans have said the Missouri Department of Transportation needs to use its current funding more efficiently, and leaders in the GOP-majority House so far have declined to endorse paying for infrastructure projects by raising taxes.
Instead, the House has proposed splitting the cost of infrastructure projects with local governments.
Both Republicans and Democrats have said that plan would divert money away from schools and health care. Libla, a Republican from Poplar Bluff, has said transportation projects need a long-term funding solution, not a year-to-year earmark.
“There’s a lot of bobbing and weaving going on around this building,” Libla said during an earlier floor debate. While other solutions might offer some temporary relief, he said, a fuel tax increase is the most fair and predictable way to fund roadwork.
Missouri’s current fuel tax of 17 cents per gallon is among the lowest in the nation, according to the American Petroleum Institute.
The proposed 5.9 cent increase would put Missouri’s tax above the national average of 20.88 cents per gallon. Libla has said that number is misleading because it does not account for ways other states fund roadwork, such as tolls.
Missouri has the fourth-lowest spending on transportation per mile of road, Transportation Director Patrick McKenna said earlier this year.
Missouri voters rejected a transportation sales tax in 2014, and proposals to increase the state’s fuel tax faltered last year in the Legislature.