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Rocky road ahead for MoDOT tax hike

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Way too often government leaders seem to be absolutely clueless about we the people. It's as if common sense is abandoned when they enter the state payroll program. And more often than not, it leaves you scratching your head in amusement.

Here's a no-brainer. Transportation Department officials in Missouri are starting to make their case for more money to upgrade and expand the road system in Missouri. We have come to learn that transportation is one of those areas where there will never be sufficient funding to address the interest of everyone in our state. But now we learn that the gap in funding is much, much more than anyone imagined. But more on that later.

Here's something that amuses me. These transportation honchos actually surveyed just over 3,000 Missourians to find out their feelings on higher taxes to support our aging road system. And to no one's amazement, Missourians want improved roads but are overwhelmingly unwilling to pay higher taxes to support those projects. It took a survey to determine what any fifth grader would know?

In the next 20 years, Missouri will need to come up with $37 billion to address road issues throughout the state. Problem is, current projections show that the current tax bite will cover just $19 billion of those needs. Any guesses where transportation officials hope to raise that extra $18 billion? Taxpayers in Missouri are currently burdened with a massive funding shortfall for the highly expensive Medicaid program. At the same time, everyone wants to put more money into education in our state. Now transportation issues want to compete in a massive way to capture the most tax dollars possible. At some point - as the survey clearly showed - Missourians simply won't dig any deeper into their pockets.

Looking into the 20-year transportation plan it becomes clear that massive improvements on Interstate 70 are projected to take a huge bite. That project - which would add another lane to the cross-state interstate - is expected to cost at least $7 billion. Expect that number to increase substantially by the time the project actually leaves the drawing board.

And I'm also curious why our transportation leaders want another billion dollars for Amtrak over the next 20 years yet only $60 million to upgrade and expand our river port system. It seems that one project benefits the urban centers of Missouri and the other benefits the rural areas. As if I'm surprised! And that's not to mention a projected $4 billion for public transportation in the urban centers.

This huge amount of money will be a hard sell for state officials. And looking far down the road, lawmakers are going to have to make a better case before they can expect taxpayers to fund these pipe dreams.



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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen