July 11, 2002
Prop. B Will Reveal If MoDOT Has Regained Trust Of Voters
The Missouri General Assembly passed legislation this past session giving the people of Missouri the opportunity to decide on increased funding for transportation. If approved by a majority of the voters on August 6, the ballot issue, now known as Proposition B, will generate $483 million annually for transportation improvements.
Proposition B calls for a half-cent increase in the state's general sales tax (from 4.225 to 4.725 percent) and a four-cent per gallon increase (from 17 to 21 cents per gallon) in the motor-fuel tax. If approved, these new taxes would take effect January 1, 2003, and continue through June 30, 2013. It requires a majority vote to pass.
Of the $483 million total, $364 million would go to fund road and bridge improvements on the state system, and $61 million would go to other transportation modes. Missouri cities and counties would receive $52 million for local transportation improvements, and $6 million would go to biodiesel and ethanol producers.
Northeast Missouri would see two major improvement projects funded by the Prop. B proposal as approved by the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission last month.
Highway 63 will be upgraded to a four-lane facility from south of Route KK south of Kirksville to Route DD north of Macon, completing the majority of the corridor from Kirksville to Jefferson City. This project involves alternative methods of financing through partnerships and agreements with the Highway 63 Transportation Corporation.
Highway 61 will be upgraded to a four-lane facility from south of Wayland to Canton. This completes the corridor from Iowa to St. Louis and connects to improvements in Iowa. This highway is the major north/south corridor on the eastern side of the state.
Commissioners made their determination after considering several options presented by the Missouri Department of Transportation for spending the funds that would become available for the state's transportation program if the measure passes.
"We'll be able to bring Missourians many of the trans-portation improvements they want," MoDOT Director Henry Hungerbeeler told the group. "Our commitment to complete all the Prop. B projects is absolute."
However opposition leaders counter that Prop. B is a "trust us" kind of tax proposal pointing out MoDOT and Transportation Commission past failures on tax issue promises. Opponents say if voters approve the proposition there is no requirement that the promised road improvements will be built, leaders of the No on "B" committee have warned.
State Sen. Larry Rohrbach of California and Fred Lindecke of St. Louis county, co-chairs of the No on "B" committee, said voters should be aware of the lack of accountability in the promises of advocates of Proposition B's half-billion dollar tax increase.
At present, funds for roads, highways and bridges come from gasoline taxes, truck and automobile license fees, drivers license fees and other motor vehicle fees, Sen. Rohrbach pointed out. These are all user-based, and our state constitution requires that all the money from these user taxes, fees and charges be used for roads. But Prop B would - for the first time - use a general sales tax on all types of consumer goods to raise two-thirds of the tax increase for
roads, Rohrbach said.
"The sales tax money would not be dedicated to roads under the constitution, and the people would have to trust the Legislature and the Governor to continue to use it for roads and not divert it to some other expense," Rohrbach stated. "The people would also have to trust the Transportation Commission to spend it on the projects it is promising now," he said, "because there is nothing that binds them legally to their campaign promises."
However proponents point out Missourians would see 100 percent of the state's interstate highways in good condition, more work on major highway projects and an increased focus on taking care of existing highways if voters approve the tax proposal.
"Prop. B is a chance to improve safety and enhance economic development in Missouri," Hungerbeeler said. "This is the best economic stimulus package the state could have. Many jobs are created in the construction industry, but there's also a tremendous secondary benefit in jobs in other industries such as suppliers, restaurants and others.
"If Prop. B passes, Missourians will see a noticeable improvement in the smoothness of the state's highways in the next 10 years, " he said.
"Proposition B would mean a consistent, high level of funding for rehabilitation and recon-struction projects, significantly improving the condition of our roadway system," he said. "And it would more than triple the amount of funds available for completing vital expansion projects. Without Proposition B, we can only invest $160 million a year in major projects; with it, the number jumps to $554 million."
The highway commission reviewed three options illustrating how the new funds could be spent to take care of the existing system, to finish various expansion and corridor projects MoDOT has started, and to provide additional transportation options.
The commission approved a reserve of 15 percent of the major project funds to give MoDOT the opportunity and flexibility to work with its local transportation planning partners to address emerging needs and to handle unforeseen events such as an economic downturn. If not needed for emerging needs, the reserve would speed up projects already underway.
Despite the assurances from proponents of the legislation Lindecke said the Transportation Commission's record "does not encourage trust on the part of the people." He recalled that when the Legislature passed a 6-cent per gallon tax increase in 1992, the Transportation Commission promised a four-lane road between every town of at least 5,000 people. "But six years
later," Lindecke pointed out, "the commission abandoned that promise."
Lindecke added that the MoDOT budget has gone up 150 percent since 1992, while the budget of the entire state government has gone up 100 percent. "Yet the condition of the roads has deteriorated," he said.
Rohrbach added that the Transportation Department "has had plenty of money for new buildings and public affairs officers, but not enough money to fix the roads. They built new or remodeled the district offices all over the state, and the number of public affairs personnel increased from 10 in 1991 to 78 in 2001.
Then the number of public affairs people suddenly dropped to 37 in 2002," Rohrbach said.
"If the people like what is being promised and go for this tax increase, they will just have to take it on faith that those promises will be kept," Lindecke
said. "We urge the voters to demand a better deal by voting no on Proposition B on Aug. 6."
Despite the past failures backers of Prop. B point out that under the commission's approved option, the percentage of pavement in good condition would increase from the current 35 percent to 57 percent.
Through Prop. B, more than 700 bridges would be replaced in 10 years, virtually eliminating the backlog of bridges in the most serious condition. Additionally, 14,000 miles of collector highways would be resurfaced, which is almost two-thirds of the state's 23,000-mile total of these smaller roads.
Funding invested in other transportation modes would allow MoDOT to purchase 100 more transit vehicles per year for increased public transit service, and increase by 25 percent the number of airports capable of handling jet aircraft. Prop. B funding would also allow the state to begin work on higher-speed rail service through the Midwest Rail Initiative, construct or repair docks at six ports, and improve or build terminal facilities at nine ports.
Commissioners said they liked the reserve fund and the emphasis on restoring smoothness and safety to all of Missouri's interstates.
Barry Orscheln, commission vice chairman, said the projects are fairly distributed around the state, and would also address the state's critical need for bridge repairs.