Transportation task force meets at state Capitol looking to address funding issues

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JEFFERSON CITY - A special task force aimed at evaluating transportation in the state and addressing funding issues met Wednesday afternoon for the first time. 

The special task force was suggested and created by state Rep Kevin Corlew, R-Kansas City. He is also serving as the chair for the task force. 

Corlew asked the task force to keep an open mind during the process of the six months the task force will meet. 

MODOT Director Patrick McKenna is on the task force and also presented information today on the state of transportation funding in the state. 

"It is the seventh largest system in the nation and it is funded at 47th in the nation in terms of revenue per mile," McKenna said. "I think we also have to consider the significance of how we are funded relative to other systems near us and throughout the nation." 

State senator Bill Eigel, R-St. Charles, said when you make an apples to apples comparison to what people spend for mile, there are only so many people in the state. 

"In terms of geographic size and population, we are far below sixth and seventh in the country, we are I think it is 21st in size and 21st also in population," Eigel said. 

Eigel asked if the real problem was the funding per mile or the size of the transportation network in the state. He added Missourians are paying the most they ever have in taxes, close to 28 billion total. 

"As the representatives of the people I have a huge hesitation to solve our problems by simply going back to our constituents and asking for more money anytime we perceive a shortfall," Eigel said.  

He said the average funding for transportation nationwide is about $216,000 per mile of road and in Missouri it is closer to $50,000 per mile. 

McKenna said the average driver in the state spends $30 a month for use and access to public roads and bridges in the state. 

"Your'e paying on average $60 a month for those phones," McKenna said.

He said what the average driver pays is half of what they pay for one cell phone.

"It is a vital transportation network, it is a network access you are paying for," McKenna said.  

McKenna said the primary sources of revenue are the gas tax, the state motor vehicle sales tax, and license and registration fees. He says those fees have not been adjusted for inflation for decades. 

 "With license and registration fees, some of those go back to the 1960's since the last time they were adjusted and with the gas tax since 1996," McKenna said. 

State senator Dave Schatz, R-Franklin and St. Louis Counties, brought up the gas tax as well. 

"Part of the problem we face here in Missouri is the fact that we have not seen an increase in the motor user fuel tax fee since 1996, and there has not been an increase in the federal gas tax since 1993," Schatz said. 

He said inflation has gone up over 64 percent since 1993. 

"It is obvious what the problem is," Schatz said. 

He said it is a common misconception by people that general taxation from income tax and property taxes is funding that statewide transportation network gets. 

"It is the user fees structure, primarily gas tax that is funding that," McKenna said. "It is a common misconception but it is an important one for people to understand as they consider the solutions that this committee will consider as well." 

McKenna said the operating budget for MODOT has not gone up in 15 years and reduced the size of the department in 2011 resulting in 2100 less jobs in MODOT. 

The task force will meet multiple more times in the coming months across the state to continue the discussion on the transportation funding issue.