MO House gives voters opportunity to decide on transportation funding

MO State Capitol Banner 2By a vote of 105 to 43, the Missouri House passed the Senate Substitute for HJR 68, a ¾ percent general sales tax for transportation in Missouri.  This referendum will now go before Missouri voters in November.   Unlike the Missouri gas tax which under the Missouri Constitution requires all funds be spent on roads and bridges, this bill provides flexibility in funding for all modes of transportation including transit.

The tax is estimated to generate $540 million annually with a 10 year sunset and would boost the state sales tax to just below 5 percent.  Five percent will go to cities and counties off the top. The remaining will be distributed to MoDOT’s transportation planning partners across the state to fund a list of projects and priorities for their respective regions. In the St. Louis region, East-West Gateway Council of Governments is working on the list which should be available by mid-June.

What’s next. . .

The key moving forward is to ensure the regional lists of projects and priorities include a fair share for TRANSIT projects.  Investing in transit in both our cities and towns will improve Missouri’s economy.   Transit creates and sustains jobs, it provides access to work, it creates economic development opportunities, it creates livable and sustainable communities, and it puts money back in Missourians pockets. MoDOT will finalize these lists over the summer.  There is a demand across the board for transit in our urban areas from millennials, baby boomers, immigrant populations, employers, and older adults wanting to age in place. 

The key to this measure is it does not require spending on transit, bicycle, walking or any other particular element, however, it does for the first time allow for this flexibility in spending for these modes.

The current level of state support for public transit is inadequate.  Missouri’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation identified the need for an additional $200 million annually to address Missouri’s unmet public transit funding needs.  Last year, Missouri’s transit funding was $1.06 million for 33 service providers across the state – that ranks near the bottom across the country in transit funding. In the St. Louis region, our neighbors the St. Clair County Transit District in Illinois receives more than $40 million annually from the state of Illinois to maintain their portion of the Metro system. 

What else do we need to know about HJR 68:

  • The bill proposes a 10 year temporary sales and use tax measure which must be submitted to voters every 10 years for renewal.
  • The proceeds of the tax will be distributed between three different funds established by the act. Five percent shall be deposited into the County Aid Transportation Fund, five percent shall be deposited into the Municipal Aid Transportation Fund, and ninety percent shall be deposited into the Transportation Safety and Job Creation Fund. Funds deposited in the County Aid Transportation Fund shall be distributed to the various Missouri counties to be used for local highways and bridges, state highway system purposes, or for county transportation system purposes. Funds deposited in the Municipal Aid Transportation Fund shall be distributed to the various Missouri cities, towns and villages to be used for local roads and streets, state highway system purposes and uses, or for city transportation system purposes. Funds deposited in the Transportation Safety and Job Creation Fund to be used for state highway system purposes or for state transportation system purposes and uses. Any moneys deposited in these three funds or interest earned on those deposits are prohibited from being counted as general revenue or being transferred to any other funds.
  • While in force the General Assembly, counties, and municipalities are prohibited from changing the motor fuel tax rate from the rate authorized by law on January 1, 2013, and a toll highway or toll bridge on a highway or bridge that is in existence are prohibited, unless otherwise approved by the voters.
  • The act also requires the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission to create a list of projects, programs, and facilities to be funded with proceeds from the Transportation Safety and Job Creation Fund prior to the effective date of this act and submit a status report as to the list items annually thereafter to the Governor, General Assembly, and Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight.  In the St. Louis region, this list would be created by East-West Gateway and submitted to MoDOT for approval.
  • Transportation system purposes can include public transit, ports, airports, and pedestrian/bikeways.
  • The ¾ percent general sales tax is more flexible than the current gas tax which is limited to road and bridge projects. According to Rep. Hinson, one of the sponsors of the bill, the ¾ cent sales tax is equivalent to about a 25-28 cent fuel tax increase to raise the same amount of money but this tax allows for total transportation funding.
  • Food, medicine and gas are exempt from this tax.  Anything that is exempt under state law is also exempt from this sales tax.

Now is the time to reach out to our regional planning partners and let them know, TRANSIT must be a key component of the priority lists to move this funding package forward.

Summary of House Votes:

http://www.house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills141/rollcalls/068.015.pdf