With the seventh-largest highway system in the country and funding for it lagging at 49th place in national rankings, the state of Missouri was long overdue for an infusion of transportation infrastructure funding. As longtime advocates for raising spending on the state’s roadways, the Missouri REALTORS® threw their support behind a bill that would gradually increase the state’s motor fuel tax, the revenue source for roadway maintenance, when it came up for a vote in the House. With a REALTOR® Party Call for Action and a strong letter from 2021 President Janet Judd, they helped turn the tide toward better roads.
The rate of the state’s motor fuel tax had not been increased since 1996, and road conditions aren’t getting any better, says Sam Licklider, Chief Lobbyist of the Missouri REALTORS®. “We see it as primarily an economic development issue.” He points out that not only are Missouri’s heavily trafficked interstate arteries maintained by the fuel tax, but “People need to get to and from work, and get products moved, and if a community doesn’t have decent infrastructure, they’ll look elsewhere. You could have lovely homes on poorly maintained roads, and no one will want to live there. REALTORS® understand that it’s a basic quality-of-life issue.”
In the Missouri State legislature, no one understands that better than REALTOR® Champion Becky Ruth, a former REALTOR®, herself. Representative Ruth has been valiantly working to increase the fuel tax for years, with the full support of the REALTORS®, says Licklider, and she was the House handler of the bill that came from the Senate as SB262. Beginning in October 2021, it proposes to increase the motor fuel tax by 2.5 cents a year for five years, when it would reach 12.5 cents per gallon. This, in addition to the existing fuel tax, would still be lower than the current nationwide average. When the increase reaches maturity, the new fuel tax is expected to bring in $500 million annually for the maintenance of Missouri’s transportation infrastructure.
The bill is remarkable in that there is a provision for residents who are not in favor of paying the tax to keep their gas receipts and claim a refund if their vehicle weighs less than 26,000 pounds. Ruth notes that there is already such a system in place for agricultural equipment, and the bill’s supporters wanted to make it as easy as possible for anyone seeking a refund to fill out a one-page form on the Department of Revenue website and receive a check with 5% interest within 45 days; if the refund is not paid in that time frame, the check would be calculated at the federal interest rate. Licklider commends Ruth for making the tax increase as palatable as possible, and notes that the proposed increase was even embraced by the Missouri Trucking Association, although its members’ heavy vehicles would not qualify for the refund. “She also fought off some really bad amendments, and made sure the bill was all clean,” he reveals.
For her part, Representative Ruth credits the REALTORS® with helping to get the message through to their legislators: “The Missouri REALTORS® have been extremely supportive. I know many reached out to senators and representatives regarding the impact the funding increase would have on their communities. They’ve been phenomenal in advocating for this!” That happened through a timely Call for Action organized by the REALTOR® Party, with copy provided by Licklider. A persuasive letter to legislators from 2021 President Janet Judd also made an impact, he reports. “We received a number of comments from legislators referring to the calls and Janet’s message. As busy as the market has been – and no one here has ever seen anything like it – we were grateful that our members took the time to respond to the call. It made a difference!” The bill passed the Senate and the House and is awaiting the Governor’s signature to begin giving Missouri’s roadways a stronger future.
To learn more about how the Missouri REALTORS® are working to improve transportation infrastructure – and quality of life – for the state’s residents and visitors, contact Sam Licklider, the association’s Chief Lobbyist, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573.445.8400.