To fix Missouri's existing roads and construct new highways and bridges will cost about one billion dollars a year, that's according to officials with the Missouri department of transportation' Some state lawmakers like Democrat Don Koller who chairs the house transportation committee believe the way to generate money for road repair is with a tax increase'
No matter what you call it, Koller and other lawmakers want to ask voters to approve a tax increase that would generate between 500 million and one billion dollars a year. Opposition to such a tax increase package in the last legislative session resulted in nothing getting passed. Koller says if lawmakers fail to act again, the Missouri highway system will be in trouble because in the next couple of years the state begins to pay off transportation bonds and other limiting factors will kick in.
Koller's senate counterpart is republican Morris Westfall. The Southwest Missouri lawmaker represents rural Polk county, where he says voters are unlikely to support a tax increase package like Koller is proposing.
The Missouri department of transportation presented its annual report to lawmakers recently. The majority of the report pointed to the need for more money. Department spokesman Jeff Briggs says Missourians won't have the kinds of safe roads they want if they're unwilling to support tax increases for transportation. The pressure to get something done in the next legislative session is increasing. This is the last year for the largest number of legislators ousted by term limits so far. Among those, Koller and Westfall. Koller says for that reason, he wants the legislature to send a transportation funding plan to the voters.
As lawmakers begin hammering out funding plans for transportation, Westfall says he's keeping an open mind and is willing to work on a compromise with Koller.
The difficulty will be overcoming ideological differences between republicans and democrats and geographic differences between urban and rural lawmakers.