It’s been almost a year since I wrote about the demise of a proposed sales tax to support Missouri’s highways. But unlike last year, it now appears a sales tax option will be coming to the voters of our state no later than November. While some have already spun this as a tax increase, I’d rather call it a tax option — after all, we the people will make the final decision – our legislators simply made the choice available. I’m glad we get the chance to weigh in on the matter.
I stand by my principled view that overall, I’d like to see a smaller government and lower taxes for everyone. But as you learn in life (and as I had reinforced by my college economics professor) — there are no free lunches. Roads don’t get built for free. Roads and bridges don’t last forever. It takes money to keep our road infrastructure functioning. The sales tax — if approved — will generate around $550 million a year with a 10-year sunset. Five percent of that comes back to both counties and cities for local projects.
Personally, I felt a fuel tax would be the “fairest” tax — meaning that those who use the roads more (and therefore buy more gas) pay more in taxes, but that’s not what we got. The concern I heard was such a tax would equate to as much as $0.20-$0.25 per gallon at the pump to generate the needed revenue. That’s more than a 5 percent increase in gasoline prices — adding $5 or more to the average fill-up.
The sales tax (which we get to vote on) is the other option for a quasi-consumption tax – the difference being that those who buy more (of everything) will pay more taxes. (As a side note, you don’t pay sales tax on gasoline.) The downside is the proposed ¾-cent tax hits everyone — regardless of how far or how much we drive. The legislature has lessened that blow by exempting items such as food and prescription drugs. Given that most goods we buy in stores today are delivered there by trucks (that drive our highways), some will say that taxing all goods is fair since it helps pay for the roads that allowed the goods to be delivered. While it’s not a strict tax on road use, I do see some connection.
At the end of the day, the funding issues at MoDOT aren’t going away. With more money, they will build more. Without more money, they won’t. I applaud MoDOT on the cost-cutting measures already put in place. They’ve cut a lot of staff and closed a number of offices (the one on 32nd Street in Joplin is one I notice the most.) It does appear they have tried to do their part. And when you lose almost half a billion in funding vs past years, you have no choice but to stop building and change your focus to little else other than maintenance and snow removal.
We should know in the next few weeks if November is truly the date to decide this issue. But until then, unlike last year, at least voters will get the chance to decide on MoDOT’s funding for the future — and ultimately decide on an option to support the future of our Missouri highways for the next 10 years.
I want to give a quick compliment to our folks in the Neosho Parks Department. With most of the flowers now planted and spring rains bringing life back to our parks, they are looking beautiful. I took a stroll around Big Spring Park this week — what a jewel we have in our downtown! Sales tax revenues continue to come in strong. Business growth is picking up as well. We certainly have a lot to be proud of.
Until next time: Stay the course, keep the faith, and may God bless Neosho.
Richard Davidson is mayor of Neosho.