Prop D, Missouri fuel tax proposal on Nov 6 ballot: What is it? What does it do for bicycling and walking?

One of the major issues on the November 6th election ballot is Proposition D, a proposal to raise Missouri's fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon over a four-year period.

Building comprehensive, sustainable transportation funding
Building comprehensive, sustainable transportation funding to meet the transportation needs of all Missourians has been a long-term goal of the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation and our allies across the state

Some of the most common questions we are getting now are: What does Prop D do for people who walk, bicycle, and use trails? Where does the money actually go? Should I consider supporting it?

Big Picture summary of Prop D

What Prop D does, in brief:

  • 10 cent fuel tax increase (added to our current 17 cent state fuel tax, second lowest in the nation), phased in over 4 years
  • The new money will be split among cities/counties (30%) and MoDOT (70%)

  • MoDOT's portion will bring MoDOT funding levels to just below where they were in the mid 1990s (inflation-adjusted)
  • Prop D primarily addresses funding for roads and streets in Missouri. We join groups like the Missouri Public Transit Association and Citizens for Modern Transit in supporting Prop D but also calling for greater investment in Missouri's total transportation needs beyond our roads and streets. We need to work to meet the transportation needs of all Missourians, including millions in every part of the state who cannot or chose not to drive, and millions who regularly walk, bicycle, and use public transportation.

Most bicycling and walking in Missouri happens along our existing roads and streets. Keeping those roads and streets in good shape and having funding for necessities like shoulders, sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes (where needed) is a priority for people who walk and bicycle.

For those reasons, and because our fuel tax funding in Missouri is so low in comparison to past Missouri rates and in comparison to other states--we encourage people who walk and bicycle to seriously study and consider Prop D.

It is most likely the only chance we will have in the reasonable future to bring Missouri state fuel tax closer to historic and national norms.

Many voters want to study issues like those presented by Prop D in detail and Federation members have asked for more detail on several specific issues.  For that reason, we have provided more information and explanation for each of the points above, and addressed in detail many questions voters have about Prop D, below.

Click these links to go directly to each topic:

Why Missouri needs both a reasonable fuel tax increase and a comprehensive approach to total transportation funding

Prop D addresses the current serious shortfall in Missouri road and highway funding. It has some positive benefits for people who walk and bicycle--outlined in detail below.

But it does not resolve a serious inequity in Missouri's state transportation funding: The need for a small but steady annual amount of funding for the state's comprehensive transportation needs. For years we have strongly supported both bringing the state's fuel tax to reasonable levels and, in addition, creating new dedicated annual state funding for the state's comprehensive transportation needs.

For that reason, we suggest that voters carefully study and consider supporting Prop D. But we want to remind voters and legislators that passing Prop D is just one step in solving Missouri's full transportation funding problem.  Prop D addresses roads and highways--an important part of Missouri's transportation system, but far from the full system.

What is our current state transportation funding situation; How does Prop D change it

Fuel tax dollars are spent according to requirements set by the Missouri Constitution.  Prop D doesn't change that system, but adds more money to it to bring it back to (inflation-adjusted) funding levels we had in the 1990s.  Per the Constitution, that money is divided and used these ways:

  • 70% to the state of Missouri for these purposes:
  • 30% to cities and counties for their locally-determined transportation needs

Prop D does not change the Constitution, but adds more funding into this system by changing the fuel tax rate in state statute.  That means that 70% will go to the state to increase MoDOT's funding and 30% to cities and counties for local transportation needs.

(A quirk of the proposal--and one that many voters have questions about--involves the Highway Patrol in the new state funding. Detailed explanation below, but the end result is MoDOT receives the new funding while Highway Patrol funding remains as it is at the Constitutionally mandated "actual cost" of HIghway Patrol traffic enforcement.)

How Prop D helps support bicycling and walking

We often think of the fuel tax as funding roads and bridges--and so not directly helpful for bicycling and walking.  That is true to a degree.  But most bicycling and walking in Missouri happens on an along our existing road system.  Prop D will give needed funding to MoDOT, cities, and counties to maintain their road systems at reasonable levels--and that opens up opportunities for improving bicycle and pedestrian access on those roads that are not available when funding is tight.

Here are some specific ways Prop D funding helps improve bicycling and walking in Missouri:

  • Drivers will be paying more of their fair share of the cost of roads & highways. Right now, Missouri fuel tax is second to lowest in the nation, ahead of only Alaska--so very low in comparison to other states.
    The seven national bicycle routes in Missouri--like USBR 76 shown here--all make
    The seven national bicycle routes in Missouri--like USBR 76 shown here--all make extensive use of the state road system

  • 30% of the new fuel tax funding will go directly to cities and counties, and they have significant flexibility within their local transportation budgets (of which the state fuel tax is typically only 10-15%) to fund local transportation priorities, including roads, public transit, sidewalks, bikewalks, trails, airports, and so on, as they wish according to local priorities. The local portion of the fuel tax can be spent on road and street-related expenses such as shoulders, bike lanes, crosswalks, pedestrian crossing signals, sidewalks, and so on--if those are local priorities.
  • The remaining 70% goes to MoDOT and can be spent on the state highway system. MoDOT's policies about accommodating biking & walking, shoulders, and related amenities on state highways are by no means perfect, but MoDOT's policies for accommodating walking and bicycling along and across the state highway system are far, far better than they were 5, 10, 15 or 20 years ago
  • Just for example, if MoDOT or cities support Complete Streets approaches, this funding can be used for that type of design, where appropriate. This is at the discretion of MoDOT, the city, or the county and could be done where strong local support exists for this approach; where no local support exist of course it won't be done. The point is that the requirements in the Constitution and state statute require the funding to be spent on roads but do not specify what type or design of roads is required.  Those specifics are left to local discretion and priorities.
  • When MoDOT is super fiscally-constrained as they have been the past 7 years or so, the sidewalk, the crosswalk tend to disappear, the 4-foot should becomes a 2-foot shoulder, and so on. When reasonable funding for basic operations is available, MoDOT is more able to provide those small but important improvements needed by people who walk and bicycle.

    MoDOT controls 34,000 miles of roads across Missouri, so many, many roads through cities and towns--that need sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, and so on.  This money can be used for those things, if MoDOT makes it a priority.
  • MoDOT state funds are most often paired with federal dollars and other funding sources on any specific project. The federal dollars nearly always have the flexibility--or even, in some cases, the requirement--to accommodate for nonmotorized transportation as appropriate and needed.
  • For those concerned that this will lead to a glut of massive new freeway and highway projects: This is more of a modest "maintain the system" level of funding. In ordinary language, this proposal doesn't take MoDOT funding from "Normal" to "Very high". Rather it takes it from "Very low" to "Moderately low".

    It takes Missouri highway funding from 49th in the nation to around 37th. It puts MoDOT road funding back to where it was in the mid 1990s (inflation-adjusted) or maybe  a little lower--but certainly no higher.

Who's supporting Prop D: Diverse, bipartisan support; governor and mayors supporting

Prop D is being supported by a diverse coalition.  It is a very unusual amalgamation of urban, suburban, and rural and conservative and progressive groups. Politicians supporting it include leaders in both the Republican and Democratic parties (though there are some opponents in both parties as well).

Supporters include:

  • Farm Bureau and Missouri Corn Growers, and Missouri Cattlemen who typically oppose most tax increases--b
    Most walking and bicycling in Missouri takes place on our road and street system
    Most walking and bicycling in Missouri takes place on our road and street system
    ecause they want to maintain those farm-to-market roads.
  • Missouri Chamber of Commerce and many local Chambers and business groups, who often oppose most tax increases--because they see the importance of maintaining the transportation system to business.
  • Labor unions--who generally don't agree with the Chamber of Commerce on any issue--have joined the Prop D coalition as major supporter.
  • The Missouri Municipal League and Missouri Association of Counties support Prop D.  Their opposition was crucial to the defeat of Amendment 7 in 2014.  But they strongly support Prop D because it helps them with moderate additional funding and because they have great flexibility in how they use the funding.
  • Specific cities and counties and regional groups such as the Municipal League of Metro St. Louis, the KC regional Metro Mayor's Caucus,  and the County Commissioners Association of Missouri.
  • Freedom, Inc. and the St. Louis County NAACP.
  • Leading politicians of both parties, including Governor Parson, Lieutenant Governor Kehoe, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Crewson, Kansas City Mayor Sly James, Springfield Mayor Ken McClure, Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin, and many others of both parties.
  • Past Presidents Pro Tem of the Senate of both parties (all living)

Of course, just because some politican or group is supporting a proposal doesn't mean you should, too.  But can be worth looking at who is supporting, who is supporting, and why to help inform your decision.

Arguments by groups for and against can help inform your decision as well:

  • The Proposition D supporter group is
  • An organized opposition group has not yet formed as far as we know, but the arguments both for and against Prop D are summarized Ballotpedia

In Missouri, we do some things right: Flexibility and local choice

Nationally, our allied bicycle and pedestrian groups have been working hard for a couple of principles in all transportation funding: Decision-making and priorities should be set at the lowest level possible, closest to the people.  And transportation funding should be flexible, allowing local communities to use the funding on their local transportation priorities without restrictions imposed from the top.

By chance of history and philosophy, Missouri funding proposals often fit these criteria.  In the case of Prop D:

  •  30% of funding goes straight to cities and counties, where it can be spent on their priorities
  • Over the past 30-40 years, MoDOT has moved to a system of Regional Planning Commissions an Metropolitan Planning Organizations, where transportation priorities and funding decisions are made as a collaboration between MoDOT staff and local leaders.
  • Flexibility: City & County funding can be used towards whatever transportation priority that city or county has, including bicycling, walking.  MoDOT funding also has some flexibility: Its funding can be used to meet any transportation need on the state highway system, including for example things like crosswalks, sidewalks, shoulders and bike lanes.

None of these amount to a slam dunk for bicycling and walking. There is no guarantee of funding being spent on these priorities.  But when these principles are followed, the opportunity is available for citizens to work with leaders to set local transportation priorities to include bicycling and walking.

At the statewide level creating opportunities for local action is often a major advance in itself.   

Prop D and Highway Patrol funding: All new state funding goes to MoDOT, None to the Highway Patrol

Many voters who have done their due diligence by carefully reading full text of Prop D have asked: Does the new funding really go to MoDOT?

The short answer is:

  • ALL new state funding goes to MoDOT
  • NO new state funding goes to the Highway Patrol

There is a reason for the confusion--read on for the explanation.  But don't be confused about the end result: The State's portion of the new fuel tax funding goes directly to MoDOT and nowhere else.

Wording of Prop D leads to confusion

Prop D says:

Subject to appropriation by the General Assembly, the state portion of the revenue generated by the increase shall be used for the actual cost of the Missouri Highway Patrol in administering and enforcing state motor vehicle laws and traffic regulations.

So does that mean that the revenue increase generated to the state by Prop D will go to the Highway Patrol and not to MoDOT?

The short answer is "no".  For the long answer, read on:

Missouri Highway Patrol traffic patrol costs long covered by Missouri fuel tax

Highway Patrol traffic enforcement is an expense directly related to our road and highway system. For that reason, for decades Missouri has funded Highway Patrol traffic patrol costs via the existing state fuel tax.

Actual traffic patrol costs currently funded by the Missouri fuel tax currently amount to $288 million annually.

Many citizens are not aware of this, but our state legislators are very aware of this budget item, it's important to the public safety in Missouri, and the fact that the people have voted several times over many years to support this system as the most fair and equitable way to fund this public safety expense directly related to our state road and highway system.

Missouri legislators thought Highway Patrol funding important to public safety; emphasizing it would be a plus

Passage by the General Assembly is one of two ways a state proposition can get on the ballot for a vote of the people, and Prop D started as a bill, HB 1460, in the Missouri legislature.

When the bill came up for discussion and a vote during the 2018 Missouri legislative session, some legislators felt that voters were more likely to support funding for the Highway Patrol law enforcement expense related to our road and highway system. Some legislators felt that voters might view the Highway Patrol more favorably than MoDOT.  And some legislators themselves were more inclined to support funding for law enforcement first.

So the idea of funding law enforcement first became part of the package needed to get the votes necessary for Prop D to pass the Missouri House & Senate. Missouri legislators are very sensitive--gunshy, even--about any tax increase. Many legislators are reluctant even to put tax measures before voters.

It takes a lot of discussion and compromise to get a tax proposal through the Missouri House and Senate, and the language related to the Highway Patrol is part of that discussion and compromise.

Keep in mind that any proposal garnering statewie approval must appeal to a very broad range of legislators and citizens.  Emphasizing the Highway Patrol's role may or may not appeal to you personally, but it certainly does appeal strongly to many Missouri legislators and voters.

Prop D end result: New funding for MoDOT, no new funding for the Highway Patrol

But here is the thing every legislator knew and every informed voter should know:

  • The language of Prop D, quoted above, does not bring any new revenue to the Highway Patrol. 
  • Instead, it replaces existing funding--allowing that current Highway Patrol funding to go to MoDOT and the state's road and highway needs. This is the primary purpose of Prop D.
  • It does not guarantee that new funding will go solely to the Highway Patrol.  If you are not used to reading legislative language it might seem that way. But the phrase "Subject to appropriation by the General Assembly" gives future state legislators the flexibility to allocate the new funding as needed between Highway Patrol and MoDOT, and the constitutional restriction of Highway Patrol funding to "actual cost" limits the total amount that can go to the Highway Patrol.
  • Prop D does help guarantee that both MoDOT and the Highway Patrol will both receive sufficient funding in the future.

The long and the short of it: Yes, most of the new funding will go to the Highway Patrol.  But that means the previous funding going to the Highway Patrol now goes to MoDOT. Any new funding beyond Highway Patrols "actual cost" also goes to MoDOT.

End result:

  • Highway Patrol gets no new funding beyond "actual cost" as currently dictated by the Missouri Constitution
  • MoDOT gets a funding boost equal to the amount of the tax increase
  • Both MoDOT and Highway Patrol are guaranteed reasonable funding for some years into the future

It is unfortunate that the legislative "sausage machine" create a Prop D that is a little more complicated that it needs to be. 

But as a voter, you want to ask yourself: Are you more concerned that a ballot proposal is a little more complicated than it needs to be, or more concerned with the end results?

Some voters will come own on either side of that question, of course!

Other questions you may have; Olympics, Freight Plan, other strange quirks of Prop D

Prop D was approved by the General Assembly through a legislative process.  Remember the old saying about legislation and sausage--the legislative process always means some strange bits are included, either because of particular requirements of the legislative process or to get the support of some legislator or another.

Prop D includes some of those--including a tax relief for Olympic medalists (legislative process brought that on board), the Highway Patrol involvement outlined above, and creation--but not any funding toward--a new state Freight Bottleneck Fund.

Like the Highway Patrol funding, the Freight Bottleneck Fund was a late addition needed to end the opposition of a few key legislators who were ready to filibuster HB 1460. The fund is created, but not even $1 is devoted to it.  The Missouri Legislature can create funds like this at any time by a simple majority vote.  So if the legislature has votes in the future to put money into such a fund, it would have votes to create the fund as well.  The point is: Creation of the fund is a small moral victory for a few legislators but has no practical effect in the long run.

By far the most important question posed by Prop D is whether Missouri drivers are willing to pay about $5 per month more towards upkeep and maintenance of their state, county, and city roads and bridges.

If you have questions about those various quirks of Prop D, the Safer MO FAQ talks about each of them.

Summary: Consider the pluses and minuses, the overall benefits & costs, weigh your decision

Overall, we are not urging you to vote to Prop D, but we are urging you to it careful consideration.  Missourians are never quick to support a tax increase.  But consider: What are the costs and benefits?

Bicyclists prefer smooth roads with good shoulders . . .
Bicyclists prefer smooth roads with good shoulders . . .

Prop D does bring some very real benefits to people who walk and bicycle.  It brings clear benefits to our state and local road, bridge, and transportation system.  It is a modest increase, bringing funding (inflation-adjusted) to about the level it was in the mid 1990s.

When fully phase in, Prop D will cost the average Missouri driver about $5 per month. Weight that against your transportation expenses and use.  Is that amount worth it? Will you gain benefits or savings equal or greater?

Different voters are certain to come out on different sides of each of those questions.

Prop D addresses one important need in Missouri's transportation system, but, in addition, we urge citizens and leaders across the state to consider the importance of looking at transportation needs and support future funding for Missouri transportation in a comprehensive way.

That means funding our roads, bridges, and highways at reasonable levels, but also looking at the needs that, historically, have been neglected in Missouri: Public transportation, bicycling, walking, passenger and freight rail, ports, airports, and all the types of transportation that are so important for our economy, our health, our wellbeing, and our quality of life.

What are you thinking about Prop D?  Leave a comment or question in the comments section or on Facebook.