Senator Mike Kehoe, R- Jefferson City and chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, held a press conference today to announce his efforts to push for a one-cent sales tax for transportation in Missouri. So the big question is does “transportation” include public transit as a part of the funding package? Inquiring minds want to know.
According to Kehoe, the one-cent sales tax increase would be dedicated specifically to transportation needs with a ten year sunset. Of the monies raised, $1 billion would be earmarked for rebuilding 200 miles of Interstate 70, from Wentzville to Independence, and widening it to six lanes. Ten percent of the new one-cent revenue would be distributed to cities and counties for local transportation purposes. About $5.15 billion would be divided up by a regional formula. The St. Louis area, for example, could see approximately $1.76 billion spent on its roads, bridges, aviation projects or other priorities. The rest would fund MoDOT’s operating budget.
According to an article in ConnectMidMissouri.com, Missouri voters have not passed a statewide sales tax in 25 years.
Kehoe said in his remarks that there would be protections built into the sales tax law:
1. It would be created by constitutional amendment that dedicates the money to transportation and prevents lawmakers from using it for any other purpose.
2. It would prohibit toll roads and fuel tax increases during the life of the tax.
3. Voters will have the choice to extend the sales tax after the 10 year timeframe.
4. Prior to the vote the Missouri Transportation Commission would have to commit to and publish a specific list of projects to be funded by the tax.
5. The resolution requires the commission to annually submit a report to the Governor and General Assembly. The report will need to include the status of state highway system and state transportation system projects, programs and facilities that were approved by the commission and funded from the proceeds of the tax.
In terms of timing, should the measure pass the legislature, it would be placed on the November 2014 ballot unless the Governor called for a special election.
As public transportation advocates, the key to this funding will be to find out how much will be allocated to public transportation and multi-modal activities on the local level. Metro identified several light rail extensions in its Long Range Plan, and the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the local metropolitan planning organization, included the Northside/Southside light rail extension in their long range plans – will projects like this be considered as local priorities? Will County Executive Dooley and St. Louis Mayor Slay need to make a decision on the number one transit priority for the region or will more than one project be eligible for the local portion of the funds? Will the East-West Gateway board have the final decision on what projects are included on the local level? Could a Transit Oriented Development Project be included in the mix?
These are some of the questions that will need to be answered before pro-transit advocates and others that support and advocate for the expansion of a multi-modal system will be on board with this tax.
It is exciting to hear that the state of Missouri is even considering a possible one cent sales tax for transportation considering the state is ranked 45th in the nation with regards to state funding for transit operations. Especially in light of the fact that the Governor’s Budget for this year allocated only $560,000 for transit operations across the state – the same level as last year and only about a $200,000 allocation to Metro. Missouri needs to fill this state funding hole not only to fund projects directly but also to allow Missouri to compete nationally for federal funds for capital projects by providing the required match.
As transit advocates, now is the time to ask your elected officials what is their stance on the bill, what are their local transit priorities, and let them know that MetroLink and public transit need to be on the list to get your vote!