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Gutless Politicians Will Ask Voters to Raise their Own Taxes

Voters will be asked to vote yes for tax increases intended to pay for upgrading roads in Metro St. Louis. The political class does not want its fingerprints on a tax increase.

Soon, voters will be asked to vote yes for tax increases intended to pay for upgrading transportation infrastructure in Metro St. Louis. 

Voters will be asked to vote yes, because the political class does not want its fingerprints on a tax increase to pay for necessary maintenance and upgrade of roads.  Most politicians believe raising taxes means getting onto an off-ramp from politics.  Staying in elected office is far more important to most in the political class than doing what is hard, but necessary.  So, during this year’s election season, when state politicians are asking you to re-elect them, think carefully about who you trust to actually make the hard decisions.  

How do we know this vote on increased transportation taxes is coming?  A former Missouri state senator let it slip at a recent meeting and a former speaker of the house followed up with questions about how the public might be encouraged to vote for such a package of tax increases. 

This interaction occurred at a meeting of “The Blue Ribbon Citizens Committee on Missouri Transportation Needs” at  Transportation Management Center (near I-64 and MO-141), Monday, May 14. 

The first to address the committee was Ed Hassinger, MoDOT’s St. Louis District Director.  The St. Louis District includes St. Louis City & County, Jefferson, Franklin, and St. Charles Counties.  The district includes a population of about 1,855,000 (just short of a third of all Missouri residents), 2,702 square miles of land, and approximately 1,533 centerline miles of state highway. 

Hassinger began his remarks by stating there is no money for new projects.  He does have almost enough funding to do regular maintenance on roadbed that currently exists.  (But inflation is already eroding the buying power of the little money he still has.)  If he were assigned more money, his top priority would be to renovate that portion of I-270 from the Illinois line (near the Chain of Rocks) to I-70.  That project would cost $300-350 million.  He also listed two interstate interchanges (I-64 and Grand, I-70 and St. Charles Rock Road) which need safety upgrades for an additional $80 million.  He said he could easily add ten more interchanges to his list. 

What Hassinger did not say was that existing roads must be regularly maintained.  If a road misses its regular maintenance by as little as two to three years, the cost of that maintenance, when finally performed, will cost 50% more.  If the interval is greater than three years, the maintenance cost can easily rise to 100% more than if performed on-time.  If maintenance is deferred too long, concrete must be ripped out down to the roadbed and re-poured at a cost of 300-500% more than the original maintenance cost.  Paying for regular maintenance (on-time) is actually a cost savings to taxpayers. 

Missouri spent five years, from 2005 to 2010, renovating and upgrading its roads.  Roads for which maintenance had been deferred.  The funds used for those projects are gone and soon roads will again begin to deteriorate throughout the state, including the St. Louis region.  This is a case of pay me now or taxpayers pay a lot more later.  

The political class was notified well in advance (2008) that money would run out and more revenue needed to be assigned.  Our elected leaders chose to do nothing.  

The political class expects voters to save them from having to cast a legislative vote for the necessary funds to maintain and upgrade our road system.  

Before you say that road maintenance is a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must be done’ item, please be reminded that good roads reduce the transportation cost of food (and other items) you buy at the store.  Good roads reduce the time it takes you to drive to work.  Good roads encourage out-of-state businesses to move into Missouri, bringing with them more jobs for you and your family members.  

As much as you are going to hate voting for more taxes to maintain and improve roads, you are going to hate ‘poor driving conditions’ and the ‘additional transportation costs added to goods bought at the store’ even more. 

If the package presented to voters is reasonable, we should vote to protect our current roads and add new or renewed infrastructure where truly needed. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lee Presser May 21, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Mr. Allen, please reread the first three paragraphs. You will note that they refer to a ballot issue(s). As to your point that "The people of Missouri have expressed frequently a desire for no new taxes," they have also expressed a desire for good roads, an easy trip to work, lower transportation costs, and new business bringing new jobs into the state. Thrifty citizens do not want to pay 150-200% more for maintenance than it costs to perform that maintenance on-time. That requires money today to save money in the long run. You can pay for good roads today or pay a lot more for them tomorrow.
Mike Allen May 22, 2012 at 02:37 AM
Interestingly, I did reread (several times actually) the first three paragraphs because, as I read them, the point seems to be to criticize legislators because "the political class does not want its fingerprints on a tax increase." The paragraphs do refer to ballot initiatives but that seems to the basis of the criticism - that legislating new taxes is hard and our "gutless politicians" are not people we can "trust to actually make hard decisions." My questions remain the same - what taxes get raised, how do we avoid Hancock issues or what other programs should be cut to fund MODOT? We may be able to pay today or pay a lot more tomorrow, but how do we pay for either without taxpayers approving a tax increase? If there's a way, I'm open to it - but let's not complain about one solution if we don't have a better one.
Don May 22, 2012 at 04:02 AM
Missouri has the lowest tobacco tax in the Nation. Our gasoline tax (35.7/gal) is the 6th lowest in the Nation - only higher than Alaska (26.4), Wyoming (32.4), New Jersey (32.9), South Carolina (35.2) and Oklahoma (35.4). There's two for starters that stand out and I'm sure there are others. We can't have 1st class roads with a 44th place tax rate - so, when you travel to other states and wonder why their roads are better than Missouri's, that'll be the reason. Cutting can only go so far - an increase in revenue is what's needed to keep up. Our current regressive legislature is accelerating us on a race to the bottom and that's bad policy. This is no way to attract new development to our state. I don't mind paying for infrastructure maintenance and development. Look at all the improvements pass generations passed on to us and now we can't find funds to maintain them - how sad.
Doris Borgelt May 22, 2012 at 01:19 PM
Bottom line, the taxpayers get to vote on all tax increases, unless of course, you want to consider the whole highway system a transportation development district, then you can pick and choose what businesses you want to be voters in the district that are not necessarily sales tax generators and then have them vote to add anywhere from a quarter to a one cent tax to the regular sales tax to fund it! That's how municipalities seem to get around letting the voter's decide if they want their taxes raised or not. Now I want to make clear, I don't advocate this method, I am definitely opposed to it, just wanted to point out what has happened in real life right here in Arnold, MO.
Mike Allen May 22, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Don has offered two potential revenue sources to fund improvements to our roads and infrastructure - large increases in cigarette and gasoline taxes. While these sound like a plausible source for the "increase in revenue that's needed to keep up," it should be pointed out that these are two of the most regressive taxes in the State. Smoking is statistically much more prevalent among lower income groups and the amount of gas used by a working person making $15,000 a year is about the same as someone making a million dollars per year. While in the long-run increasing these two taxes would likely have beneficial effects across the State over and above additional revenue - fewer smokers and less gasoline usage - in the short-run, it would result in even more hardship on people in the State struggling to make ends meet. Either way, getting taxes increased will almost certainly require a vote of the people because of the Hancock Amendment. There were two voter initiatives proposed this year to increase cigarette taxes - neither made it through the Secretary of State's office to be on the ballot. But both had designated uses for the additional revenue - additional stop smoking and health care funding and would have provided nothing for roads. I'm also not sure how much support there will be for increasing gas $.50 or a $1 per gallon. Maybe those taxes are not the best solution.- maybe we need to work with revenues we have and stop spending on things we don't need.

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