In less than two months, Missouri voters will decide the fate of a massive tax increase proposal to fund highway projects across the state. If this seems like deja vu, it is. But this time, highway department officials promise, it will be different.
A transportation tax increase is on the August ballot that - if approved - would triple spending on major road projects across the state. There are few who would question the need for these roadway improvements. There are many questioning how and where these dollars will be spent. Until officials with the Missouri Department of Transportation answer these questions, the tax hike stands little chance of passage.
Within a week or so, transportation officials in Missouri are expected to release a list of those projects that would be funded with this roughly $500 million annual tax increase. And word across the state is that without this list, the proposal has a rough road ahead.
I'm not at all certain there is time to sell this tax increase between now and August. Voters are routinely opposed to tax hikes and this one is especially troublesome. It was just a decade ago that Missouri voters were told the same story. But far too many of those projects identified a decade ago remain undone. Officials say the projections back then were faulty and funds were insufficient to cover all of the needed projects.
Well Missouri voters remember those broken promises and that's exactly why this tax increase idea faces such strong opposition.
MoDot officials know this. So they are gathering in conferences across the state to draw up a list of projects that would be funded with these new dollars. There's a problem with this however. Everyone recognizes that the state's interstate system is in need of substantial repair. But what about those local projects that are so vastly important to communities throughout the state? It's a list of these projects that will make or break this tax proposal. Without specifics, August will not be a good month for the transportation business in Missouri.
This tax hike proposal is suffering from a lack of leadership. Gov. Bob Holden lacks the leadership qualities to promote this proposal for starters. And many in the state simply don't believe the Governor because of his poor track record. That leaves the promotion of the tax hike to MoDot. Their record is less than perfect also.
The state clearly has its work cut out for it. Unless there is a substantial change in the current thinking, lawmakers may be forced to go back to the drawing board on transportation in Missouri. Time is not working in favor of this tax increase. And time is running short already.