Gas Pumping

The state gas tax will increase 2.5 cents every year for four years if passed.

As Missouri continues to deal with an estimated $825 million annual transportation funding gap, a group of bipartisan lawmakers is pushing for something that hasn’t happened in more than 20 years: an increase to the state’s gasoline tax.

In its final report published last week, a Missouri transportation task force recommended a 10-cent increase to Missouri’s gas tax and a 12-cent hike on the diesel tax. Currently, the state’s tax is 17-cents-a-gallon for both blends of fuel.

The 17-cent rate was set in 1996 and has placed Missouri within the top five states with the lowest gasoline taxes. However, Missouri ranks in the bottom five in revenue raised per mile. Moreover, the 21st Century Missouri Transportation System Task Force argues the state’s highway system — America’s seventh-largest with 33,884 miles of roadway — is aging and becoming unsafe.

While it would only eliminate half of the transportation funding gap, the proposed gas tax hike would bring in $430 million in additional transportation-related revenue.

“That would give us definitely a boost, a shot in the arm,” said State Rep. Kevin Corlew, the Republican chairman of the task force. “Over 10 years, you’re talking about more than $4 billion put into transportation, and that would enable us to start moving down the road.”

The proposal, if approved by the legislature, would ultimately end up at the ballot box as a statewide ballot initiative.

Even though lawmakers wouldn’t be directly voting for the tax increase, the legislative process to send the measure to voters would still require the support of members of a Republican caucus who has firm control of both legislative chambers and are not typically keen to raising any tax.

“I don’t think any of us are real happy about it,” said Rep. Galen Higdon, a St. Joseph Republican. “We want to reduce the burden on our taxpayers.”

Higdon said he will probably vote in favor of legislation that would ask voters whether or not to raise the gas tax.

Mark Zinn can be reached at mark.zinn@knpn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @KNPNZinn.