Lawmakers in Missouri are having second thoughts about placing a three-fourths cent sales tax on the November ballot to fund transportation improvements. This is a positive development.
Reports have it that some in Jefferson City are worried about seeming hypocritical by passing an income tax break and then coming back to voters for a general sales tax increase. Whatever the reason, we think the impulse to reconsider is a good one.
• Among the best reasons for rethinking this new statewide levy is that Missouri communities have gone to this well often recently, and the result is many already have experienced a sharp rise in local sales taxes.
In St. Joseph, sales taxes rose a half cent in January (the city public safety tax) and a quarter cent in April (the county ambulance tax). The combined rate has gone from 7.7 percent a year ago to 8.45 percent today, and it would increase to 9.2 percent with the proposed state road levy.
And remember this is before consumers pay up to 1 percent more in special districts created to fund improvements at East Hills Shopping Center, Cooks Crossing and Downtown.
• Another good reason to look elsewhere for money to fund necessary road and bridge improvements is that viable alternatives appear to be available if lawmakers can develop the political will for enacting them.
Options we have raised before include consideration of a boost in our gas tax (currently sixth-lowest in the country) or a toll charge for select bridges and roads (such as Interstate 70). Another place to look for help is in the fees assessed on the large trucks that cause much of the wear and tear on our roads.
The Missouri Department of Economic Development touts the state as having exceptionally low taxes on gasoline and diesel fuels. At the same time, we boast of having the seventh-largest highway system. The implication is that users are getting off easy.
Before we go down a path of placing a new burden on all taxpayers who make retail purchases, our lawmakers need to seriously consider other approaches that expect more of those who benefit the most.