Dec 22, 2015 – Weekly Capitol Update

NIXON SUPPORTS SLIGHT BUMP IN STATE FUEL TAXES

Gov. Jay Nixon is backing legislation that would slightly increase state fuel taxes to generate just enough additional revenue to ensure that Missouri has sufficient matching funds to leverage its full share of federal transportation dollars over the next few years. Nixon announced his position during a Dec. 17 interview on Kansas City radio station KCUR. Missouri’s taxes on gasoline and diesel haven’t increased in nearly 20 years and are among the lowest in the nation at 17 cents per gallon.

Nixon’s said he supports a bill pre-filed for the 2016 legislative session by state Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, which would increase the state excise tax on gasoline by 1.5 cents per gallon while bumping the levy on diesel by 3.5 cents per gallon. Libla’s legislation, Senate Bill 623, is similar the last version a bill he sponsored that won first-round Senate approval in April but never came to a final vote.

During the 2015 legislative session, Libla initially sought 6-cent-per-gallon increases in both the gasoline and diesel taxes to be phased in over three years in 2-cent increments. Opposition from his fellow Senate Republicans forced Libla to scale back the proposed increase to the minimum needed to ensure full federal funding.

The Missouri Department of Transportation’s annual construction awards have dropped sharply from a high of nearly $.137 billion in FY 2009 to $596 million for FY 2016, the current fiscal year. In January 2015, MoDOT officials had anticipated that FY 2017 construction awards would further shrink to $325 million — roughly $160 million less than the $485 million annually it takes just to maintain Missouri’s 34,000-mile state highway system.

In the last year, however, fuel prices have consistently remained at or below $2 a gallon in Missouri, which has encouraged people to drive more, thus buying more fuel and paying more fuel taxes. As a result, MoDOT officials now expect a construction budget of at least $550 million in FY 2017. That will allow for sufficient revenue to pay for basic maintenance but little for expansion or improvements.

If the latest financial projections hold, MoDOT will be able to avoid, at least for now, implementing an austerity plan it had prepared under which the department would fully maintain just 8,000 miles of primary roads, such as interstates and U.S. highways that connect major Missouri cities. Work on the remaining 26,000 miles of supplementary highways mostly used for local travel would be limited to filling potholes and plowing snow under the plan.

 

SENATE LEADER SAYS RIGHT TO WORK UNCERTAIN IN 2016

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, says his chamber isn’t going to spend time debating so-called “right-to-work” legislation unless the measure first passes the House of Representatives with a veto-proof two-thirds supermajority, the Missourinet reported Dec. 21. If the Senate leader holds true to that position, it could mean the issue, easily the most contentious of the 2015 legislative session, is put on the backburner in 2016.

The 2015 bill sought to make it a crime punishable by up to 15 days in jail and a $300 fine for companies to negotiate labor contracts that require employees to pay dues for the union representation they receive. Requiring such “fair-share fees” currently is a common practice under labor deals.

Richard ensured the bill cleared the Senate during final days of the legislative session by prematurely closing debate and forcing a vote. While quite common in the House, such a move is rarely executed in the Senate, which usually adheres strongly to its tradition of unlimited debate.

Richard’s action came at a high price, however, with Senate Democrats retaliating by essentially shutting down the Senate for the final three days of the session, which is when most legislation receives final passage. And it achieved nothing since Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the bill as promised, and the House of Representatives, as expected, fell well short of the 109 votes needed for a veto override, with the effort failing on a vote of 96-63-1.

Although most House Republicans support right to work, a group of around 20 pro-labor Republicans have joined with nearly all House Democrats in opposition. At least 13 representatives who voted against the bill last session would need to their switch positions for the bill to earn a two-thirds supermajority in 2016.