June 02--WARRENSBURG -- U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill endorsed the state's transportation tax ballot question.
"I've been sounding the alarm about this around the state now for a number of years. I have indicated that I'll support that (tax) because our transportation is starving," McCaskill told transportation leaders meeting in Warrensburg.
State Sen. David Pearce said Gov. Jay Nixon's decision to put the issue on the Aug. 5 ballot, rather than the November ballot, speeds up the timetable for explaining to voters what the tax will do. Transportation planners have the job of describing for voters exactly how tax dollars will be spent.
"Those recommendations have to be done in just a few weeks," Pearce said.
People working in transportation groups with Missouri Department of Transportation planners feel frustrated when they develop highway priorities only to hear there is no money, McCaskill said.
"For the first time that any of us can remember, we have no new projects in Missouri," she said. "The budget has gone from $1.3 billion down to $600,000 in just a couple of years."
The road budget is projected to dip to $325 million by 2017 if voters say no to additional funding.
Pearce said community leaders are discouraged when they cannot address transportation needs.
"It is frustrating when you tell communities, 'Sorry, no new projects.' And so this (tax) will be a real shot in the arm for that," he said.
The state tax, coupled with a multi-year federal highway funding commitment, would be good for Missouri roads, including Highway 13 and U.S. 50, McCaskill said.
"Then we can actually get serious about 13 going north, and 50 getting a much-needed shot in the arm," she said Thursday.
Missouri's 35.7 cents-per-gallon gas tax -- which includes the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal tax -- is the sixth-lowest nationally, based on an April 25 American Petroleum Industry report. States with lower gas taxes are Alaska, 30.8; New Jersey, 32.9; South Carolina, 35.15; Oklahoma, 35.4; and Virginia, 35.68.
If the .75-cent sales tax increase on the Aug. 5 ballot passes, then Missouri would remain sixth behind Mississippi's 36.78 cents-per-gallon tax.
If passed, the 10-year plan allows no further gas tax increase and bans toll roads in Missouri. McCaskill asked members of the group of about 20 people at the meeting whether they thought the tax would pass.
Some said they hear positives and some hear negatives.
"Well, if it can pass in these parts, it'll pass," McCaskill said.
Copyright 2014 - The Daily Star-Journal, Warrensburg, Mo.