The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) last week unveiled the list of projects that would be prioritized if the state’s citizens approve Constitutional Amendment 7 at the polls on Aug. 5, and Missourians for Safe Transportation and New Jobs is touting the benefits that passage of the measure would allow.
Neosho businessman Rudy Farber, a former chairman of the state transportation commission, is co-chairman of the organization that is pushing for passage of Amendment 7. Its approval would enact a ¾-cent increase in Missouri’s sales tax for 10 years that would be spent on roads, bridges and other transportation projects in the state.
Farber said the extra funding is needed because transportation funding in the state is declining.
“That’s because the gas tax is slowly deteriorating because our cars are getting better mileage,” he noted, “The gas tax is on a gallonage basis, so gallonage is going down. This presents a real problem in terms of having enough money to maintain and improve the roads.”
Farber said it takes about $500 million a year to maintain the current system of about 33,000 miles under the jurisdiction of MoDOT.
“To give you some perspective,” he said, “that is as much road as all of Kansas and all of the state of Illinois, and MoDOT is doing that on one-third of the budget Illinois has for its road system.”
Farber said that showcases that a very conservative group of individuals are managing Missouri transportation dollars very prudently.
“As the revenue source declines, the projection is that there will be by about 2017 approximately $325 to $350 million available for maintenance on the roads,” Farber said, adding that is insufficient.
He said that will lead to a deteriorating situation on the state’s roadways which will bring a severe economic cost over time.
“I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials with respect to whether you put oil in the car – ‘Pay me now or pay me later’? Well this is the same type of issue,” he said.
Farber said a deteriorating road system means safety will be compromised and economic activity will be less than it could have been if we have good roads. To highlight the importance of good roads, Farber said when he was a young man it was a very hard, five and a half hour drive from Neosho to Kansas City, and now with an interstate system it’s a very safe two and a half hours.
“That makes a great deal of difference in terms of moving goods and people back and forth,” he said. “The same thing is true with respect to traveling between Neosho and Joplin. It’s a very easy commute for people to have a job in Joplin and live in Neosho, and vice versa. That’s all a function of having safe roads.”
He said the decision to ask citizens for a sales tax to fund transportation improvements came after much research and discussion. Farber said of all the methodologies considered to acquire the needed funding such as a fuel tax or toll roads, only sales tax receives any type of positive response from the voting public. He said numerous polls conducted over the last six years show that sales tax has held steady at about 54 percent by voters, while both tolls and a gas tax poll at about 20 percent. Farber said that shows that trying to push either toll roads or a higher gas tax are, “Doomed to failure.”
To raise the necessary funding through a gas tax, he said it would take about a 25 cent increase per gallon to equal what the ¾-cent sales tax would bring in.
“And you have to also understand that is on a diminishing gallonage usage; so as that goes down the requirement goes up, so it’s not a pretty picture,” he said.
Farber said any time a tax is proposed, there will always be some that feel it is unfair. However, he said sales tax exemptions in Missouri impact positively those who are more economically disadvantaged.
“For example, it is not levied on groceries, it’s not levied on rent, it’s not levied on medicine, and these help exempt the folks who don’t have as much as some other people,” he said.
Because transportation is a cost in the flow of goods, Farber said everyone is going to pay for transportation in one way or another.
“If you have a tax that is raised by a gasoline tax on a gallonage basis, those costs are passed through on the goods that people buy,” he said.
To stay in business, Farber said every business has to be able to recover their costs.
“All taxes are borne by we who buy things.”
Developed with the coordination of local and regional planners, MoDOT has released a draft priority list of projects, including 19 in Newton County, and is asking for public comment on those priorities. Farber said Amendment 7 contains several built-in methods to keep MoDOT on the straight and narrow and assure that citizens get the project they feel they need.
He said the largest assurance is that the proposal will sunset in 10 years.
“And if MoDOT does not deliver, then the chance of getting this renewed is zero to minus-10; and I think that is a big stick,” he said.
Farber said passage of Amendment 7 comes with an annual review, providing any citizen the right and standing to sue MoDOT if they don’t do what was promised. During his years as a commissioner — and since his term ended — Farber said every project put into the state transportation improvement program has been completed as proposed.
“And the six years that I was on the commission, they came in under budget by five percent. He said. “So the track record in the last 10 years has really been excellent.”
If approved, Farber said 90 percent of the funds derived from Amendment 7 would go to MoDOT for the specific projects they have identified as priorities, and local transportation projects will benefit as five percent of the money will be disbursed to cities, and counties will also be allotted five percent.
“The counties and the cities can spend these funds in any way that is related to transportation,” he said. “It’s whatever is needed locally.
“I think as people around the state see what the projects are, then they have an opportunity to make a decision on whether they think the projects are worth the money that would be required to invested to make them a reality.”
He said Amendment 7 received overwhelming bipartisan support from the legislature to place before voters, and has been given wide approval by business, labor, agriculture and community groups throughout the state.
“We’ve garnered this support because these groups realize that voting ‘yes’ on this amendment to improve infrastructure and public transit will create thousands of new, well-paying jobs.”
Farber said the proposal prevents future politicians from diverting funds to non-transportation spending. He said the legislation also provides that the measure will appear again on the ballot in 10 years, “and if the citizens of Missouri are pleased with what they have seen, they have the opportunity to reinstate it. If they are not pleased, then they have the opportunity to not reinstate it.”
Though Missouri’s roads look smooth and nice right now, Farber said people need to understand that our future without Amendment 7 looks bleak.
“It’s going to show a deterioration in the current system, and basically very little if any new projects. Quite frankly,” said Farber, “for this state to go forward, for us to be where we should be, we need to have a robust transportation system. And this transportation system that we have now is good, but it’s not going to stay that way.”
To view the draft regional priority list of projects MoDOT plans to complete if Amendment 7 is approved, or to comment on that list, visit www.modot.org/MovingForward