Keeping our roads and highways safe is the motivating force to passage of Constitutional Amendment No. 7, on ballots statewide in the Aug. 5 primary elections next week in Missouri.

Keeping our roads and highways safe is the motivating force to passage of Constitutional Amendment No. 7, on ballots statewide in the Aug. 5 primary elections next week in Missouri.

That was one of the messages of Missouri Sen. Mike Kehoe (District 6 — Jefferson City), when he addressed the crowd at last week’s Newton County Republican Central Committee annual Free Watermelon Feed.

Kehoe reported that he served on the Missouri Transportation Commission with Neosho’s Rudy Farber and they knew since about 2008 that the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) would soon develop a funding problem.

“And that problem has come right now,” said Kehoe.

Kehoe explained that MoDOT’s budget has plunged from $1.3 billion annually in 2009, to $700 million a year today, and will be $325 million by 2017.

“So that is a 75 percent decrease in what MoDOT will have to keep your roads, your families safe and our businesses operating and running on time,” he continued.

Kehoe said citizens have been polled extensively on how they would fund road and bridge construction and maintenance and a ¾-cent sales tax is on next week’s ballot because of that research.

Some feel the gas tax should be raised, others suggest toll roads, but he said both of those solutions poll very low with Missourians and only a sales tax gains better than 50 percent support. Kehoe explained that the Hancock Amendment will not allow lawmakers to enact such a large tax increase in order to meet the needs of MoDOT.

“And that’s good,” he said. “You don’t want elected officials or crazy politicians to be able to do that to you. So we asked the people in the last four years what they would support the most.”

Kehoe said gas taxes are accepted by about 20 percent of Missourians, while toll roads poll at about 35 percent. But a small sales tax received 54 percent acceptance from the state’s residents.

“We don’t have a lot of options to get something going before you will start seeing bridges closed and lives lost,” he concluded.

Kehoe said Amendment Number 7 has consumer protections, a list of proposed projects, and a 10-year sunset, so voters would have to re-approve it for it to continue beyond that time.

He said fatalities on Missouri roads have gone down considerably over the past five years, while MoDOT has had a robust construction budget.

“What it shows you,” he noted, “is that when MoDOT is entrusted by its citizens — and they’ve proven to be good fiduciaries with the budget — and they’re working on Missouri’s roads, we can make them safer.”

Kehoe said Missouri’s roadway system is the seventh largest in the nation, but the state is 40th in funding.

“We have more center-lane miles than Illinois and Kansas combined,” he said. “But our road budget is one-third of what Illinois’s total budget is. So, it’s something that we have a great need for and what I’ve always said is I don’t want to be a legislator that ever passes a tax or a funding mechanism like this on Missourians. But I think it’s appropriate for Missourians to be able to decide.”

Kehoe closed by saying that 11 other states have gone to this funding model for transportation. Because of fuel efficiency and better gas mileage for vehicles, he said Missourians are buying about half the gas that they bought 10 years ago and gas tax revenues will continue to decline because of that.

The ballot language for Constitutional Amendment No. 7 reads: “Should the Missouri Constitution be changed to enact a temporary sales tax of three-quarters of one percent to be used solely to fund state and local highways, roads, bridges and transportation projects for 10 years, with priority given to repairing unsafe roads and bridges? This change is expected to produce $480 million annually to the state’s Transportation Safety and Job Creation Fund and $54 million for local governments. Increases in the gas tax will be prohibited. This revenue shall only be used for transportation purposes and cannot be diverted to other uses.”

EDITOR’S note: This is the second in a series of articles explaining the five Constitutional Amendments before voters across Missouri on the Aug. 5 ballot. The remaining three amendments will be showcased later this week in the Neosho Daily News.