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Missouri Republicans divided over gas tax increase

Under the bill, the gas tax would increase 2.5 cents a year until the tax hits 29.5 cents per gallon in 2025. Drivers could get a refund if they save their receipts

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Debate over whether to raise Missouri's gas tax to pay for roads and bridges divided House Republicans Tuesday as lawmakers near their Friday deadline to pass bills.

At issue is a contentious proposal that would raise the state's 17-cent gas tax for the first time in decades.

Under the bill, the gas tax would increase 2.5 cents a year until the tax hits 29.5 cents per gallon in 2025. Drivers could get a refund if they save their gas receipts.

Finding money to maintain the state's aging roads and bridges is a top priority for Gov. Mike Parson and fellow Republican Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz. Backers on Tuesday also argued the money is needed to reduce car accidents.

“I don’t know how much longer we can keep kicking that can down the road,” Republican Rep. Becky Ruth said. “We have an opportunity to invest, make an investment in our roads and bridges, help economic development, bring jobs here and make roads safer.”

But even with support from top Republicans, the proposed tax increase faces tough odds in the GOP Legislature.

Critical House Republicans argued the tax hike will impact poor families the most and tried to amend the bill to put it to a public vote.

They also framed support or opposition to the tax hike as a test of conservativism.

GOP Rep. Dottie Bailey said to colleagues who back raising the gas tax without going to voters: “Don’t even call yourself a Republican.”

“This is why people hate government,” she said.

Putting the gas tax to a public vote also might doom it. Missouri voters have a long history of saying no to tax increases.

Most recently, voters in 2018 shot down a 10-cent increase to the gas tax proposed by the Republican Legislature.

In 2014, a majority of voters said “no” to a proposed three-quarters cent sales tax that would have raised an estimated $534 million annually for roads and bridges.

In 2002, voters resoundingly defeated a proposed half-cent sales tax and 4 cent fuel tax that would have raised an estimated $483 million annually for roads, bridges and other modes of transportation.

In fact, since voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1996 requiring all tax increases over a certain amount to go to a statewide vote, not a single general tax increase has passed.