ST. LOUIS - Are you willing to pay higher taxes on the things you buy in exchange for safer roads and bridges? It's the basic question behind a complex decision Missouri voters will make next month.
It's a powerful visual, a school bus with a prop resembling a piece of bridge crushing it. The backdrop for organized labor and others supporting Amendment 7.
"This bus signifies all that is wrong with our current transportation system," said Gary Elliott, Business manager for Eastern Missouri Laborers' District Council.
"It infuses about $5.4 billion over 10 years into MoDOT's budget," said State Rep. Dave Hinson who sponsored the bill.
Funding with a temporary sales tax increase of three-quarters of a cent. Over that decade, the Missouri Department of Transportation projects the St. Louis region would receive nearly one and a half-billion dollars and funding improvements including 64 bridge projects.
"I think it's very important for the local officials being able to have some say into how they fund their projects," said Hinson.
MoDOT says it would replace aging Interstate 44 bridges over the Meramec River, but not all projects measure up to the bus image. To evaluate improvements on I-170, $2 million in funding will be used. And $4 million for the Traffic Management Center in St. Louis are also classified as road and bridge projects.
"It sounds like an unfortunate scare tactic," said David Stokes. But his biggest concern isn't the bus. The policy analyst with the Show Me Institute disagrees with the way Amendment 7 would pay for transportation improvements he agrees are needed.
"Paying for our roads with general sales tax dollars means that that person who walks to work or bikes to work is going to pay every bit the same as the over the road truckers and the long distance commuters," he said.
But labor unions believe it's a good temporary fix.
"Sooner or later it catches up with you and there's no reason not to do it," said Elliott.
Supporters gathering Monday are also pushing for more long-term funding solutions on the federal level.
Missouri voters will make the call on Amendment 7 on August 5.