In what served as his 60th day in office, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson made clear Aug. 1 at a Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce event that he’s fully behind a proposed increase to the state’s gas tax.
Legislators voted in May to place the fuel tax question on the Nov. 6 general election ballot, with a 10-cent increase proposed over a four-year period.
“I will lead on this important issue of infrastructure in our state,” Parson told the sold-out crowd at White River Conference Center. “I will step out there and I will lead, but I need your help to be able to do that.”
The gas tax increase is needed to address the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges, he said.
Missouri has the fourth-lowest gasoline tax in the country, Parson said, while having the seventh-largest number of bridges nationwide. Approximately 4,800 bridges need repair, he said, at an estimated cost of $4.2 billion. In addition, he said the state has over 131,000 miles of public roads, with almost a quarter of them rated in poor condition.
According to the Missouri Department of Transportation, state funding for roads and bridges comes in at 46th in the nation.
“We need to be proactive about this,” Parson said. “We can no longer kick this can down the road.”
If passed, the state’s fuel tax for gas and diesel would rise 2.5 cents per year, beginning in 2019, increasing from its current level of 17 cents. It would top out at 27 cents in 2022.
“We have to keep our citizens safe. We need to move our economy forward,” he said. “It has been a growing concern for this state for far too long, and it’s time to address this issue.”
Transportation infrastructure has been one of the priorities for Parson over his years as an elected official, said Matt Morrow, chamber president.
Morrow introduced Parson at the chamber’s inaugural State of the State, a special event organized in Springfield. Kelli Jones, the governor’s press secretary, said Parson had no similar State of the State addresses on his calendar.
Parson, who resides in Bolivar, was elected in 2016 as lieutenant governor, and took over as governor June 1 after the resignation of Eric Greitens.
Speaking in support of the gas tax and Proposition A – the right-to-work law that will appear on the Aug. 7 ballot – Parson said elected officials sometimes are hesitant to offer opinions on issues because of the political dynamics in the state.
“But I also think there’s times as leaders you lead. You let people know what you believe,” he said. “And you do what you think is best for the state of Missouri.
“In order to create new jobs and bring in new businesses, we need to really focus on improving our infrastructure. Those two things will go together.”
According to ballot language from the secretary of state’s office, the fuel tax increase, if approved, would also fund the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s enforcement and administration of motor vehicle laws and traffic regulations.
Drury University President Tim Cloyd was among those who heard Parson’s message Aug. 1. Although he hasn’t had a chance yet to sit down with the governor on education issues, Cloyd said he supported Parson’s effort to rally together in support of infrastructure improvements.
“A united, concerted effort to bring businesses to Springfield is absolutely critical,” Cloyd said. “It’s the right time, and the right infrastructure will help do that. This governor has the ability to go out and evangelize for the state of Missouri, for this area of Missouri, and in Springfield.”
Charley Puls, executive vice president and chief lending officer at Guaranty Bank, said he feels optimistic on the state’s path forward with Parson at the helm. He’s hopeful that voters will see the need for the gas tax hike.
“It starts with his leadership and asking for support from the broader community,” Puls said. “I think that’s important. We have to help carry that message for the governor and for the state.”
With more than 400 attending the first State of the State in Springfield – prompting a venue change from the smaller Hotel Vandivort – chamber officials plan to turn it into an annual event.
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