Friday, June 6, 2014

MO Transpo Tax Part 1: Rural Road Politics

MSR "farm-to-market" road in Nodaway County, Missouri (2012)
Part 1 of 3

In order to understand the politics of the proposed Missouri 10-year transportation 0.75% sales tax (Amendment 7), start at the Missouri Supplemental Route. This is the MoDOT-maintained system of single and double-lettered roads (i.e. "A" or "BB") that you drive on mostly in rural Missouri. The MSR system of roads is "within 2 miles of more than 95% of all [rural Missouri] farm houses, schools, churches, cemeteries and stores." Many-to-most of the roads in the MSR system could be called "farm-to-market" roads.

Since 2011 when, due to budget cuts, MoDOT commenced its "5 year plan" of cuts of maintenance facilities and workers, the MSR system roads have degraded and continue to degrade. (Ask anybody who uses the MSR system in rural Missouri, and they'll confirm it. I've noticed it.) Depending on who you believe, the degradation of the MSR road system is either the natural result of MoDOT's dramatically-reduced budget, capital and labor capacity ... or a manufactured crisis in service of "Big Concrete." (Consider me insufficiently informed as to causation and therefore agnostic.)

Manufactured or not, it's pretty bad right now (and appearing only to get worse) for communities that depend on the MSR system. At the same time, the communities that the MSR system serve are communities where a fuel tax would hit much harder economically than would a sales tax. By communities, I mean to include not only ordinary people but also the agricultural & ranching industry.

Both this time and the last time (when the transportation sales tax measure failed to move out of the legislature and onto the ballot), rural-based interests (i.e. Missouri Farm Bureau) and rural-based legislators (i.e. Hinson in the House and Kehoe in the Senate) have initiated the drive for a transportation sales tax. Any tax is tough, but a sales tax is least tough on rural Missouri's people and industry when a fuel tax is the alternative. It's both a pocketbook issue and a bottom line issue.

And the MSR roads are bad and getting worse ...   

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