MoDOT Paints Grim Funding Picture for Future

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JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri Department of Transportation Director Dave Nichols told lawmakers on Tuesday that MODOT will struggle to maintain the transportation system in 2017 without a new funding source.

Federal and state fuel taxes pay for about 70 percent of road infrastructure but the rates have not increased since the mid-1990s.

Nichols presented the department's annual report Tuesday afternoon to the Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight, a committee made up of House and Senate members.

Nichols said the department had more than $1 billion to work with in 2005-2010, but that figure dropped to $700 million in 2013.

Nichols said MODOT has shed staff and cut costs in recent years, moves he said kept that figure from dropping to $600 million.

By 2017, the department said only $325 million will come in, when it takes $485 million a year to maintain bridges and highways.

"The cost is going up whether it's the price of asphalt, concrete, steel, the cost of labor, everything is going up," Nichols said. "The purchasing power that we have with the 17 cent fuel tax that we put into place in 1992 only has the buying power of about 8 cents, literally half of what it had in 1992."

Nichols said the department's grim future budget forecast means it will start cutting down on new road construction.

Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, told KOMU 8 News he will again push a one percent sales tax increase measure this spring. The proposal would allow voters to decide in November whether to raise the sales tax rate, which currently stands at 4.225 percent. The measure would raise that rate to 5.225 percent if voters approve it.

It could raise more than $8 billion over 10 years for roads.

A similar proposal failed in last years legislative session. Kehoe said he hopes lawmakers get pressured by constituents who want a chance to vote on the issue.

"I believe a lot of constituents have been talking to lawmakers, saying last year you held up and voted against this, Kehoe said. "[they're saying] Let me show you my bridge, or my road or our problem or the plant that we maybe didn't lure to our area because our roads weren't sufficient enough."

The ballot measure has received bi-partisan support in the past but it has also been opposed in the past by groups on both sides of the political spectrum.

Some Republican lawmakers have said there are better ways to solve the transportation funding crisis using money the state already brings in. Some liberal policy groups have said a sales tax hike falls too hard on low income families.

Missourians for Safe Transportation and New Jobs is trying to go around the legislature and use the ballot initiative process to pass a nearly identical proposal. The group needs nearly 200,000 signatures before May to have a shot at getting it on the ballot.