May 17—We've got to hand it to Missouri lawmakers — they kept busy all spring.
They hit a few home runs this season, including support for a long overdue prescription drug monitoring program and a long-needed but modest increase to the gas tax that will raise hundreds of millions for roads and bridges. The Missouri Department of Transportation has estimated that the state faces a $745 million annual funding gap for roads and bridges; when fully implemented, the gas tax will generate about $500 million annually.
The latter bill will raise Missouri's gas tax, which is 17 cents per gallon currently, by 2.5 cents a year, starting Oct. 1, until the tax hits 29.5 cents per gallon in July 2025. The increase will not even by noticeable at the pump and is refundable if you want to go to the trouble of keeping receipts. It is, by the way, the first gas tax increase in 25 years in the state.
One upset Republican, Rep. Dottie Bailey, told colleagues who supported the gas tax: "This is why people hate government."
Actually, this is why people need government — to pay for infrastructure.
So thanks to lawmakers for doing their job.
We also like the fact that lawmakers sent to the governor a measure that would toughen oversight over faith-based reform schools. Testimony this spring and investigations by The Kansas City Star demonstrated the need for the state to intervene to prevent abuse.
There were a couple of whiffs, though, the biggest of those being the failure to fund Medicaid expansion despite that being the clear will of Missouri votes. This isn't going away, however; it will end up in Missouri courts, meaning tax dollars will be spent to deal with something lawmakers should have made happen.
Lawmakers also passed a measure limiting the duration of public orders that can shut down businesses, churches and schools and limiting how many people can gather. Specifically, it limits emergency orders restricting businesses, churches, schools or gatherings to 30 days, unless extended by the local governing body.
This was a reaction to pandemic restrictions that residents in some communities believed were too strict. It takes effect immediately upon the governor's signature, so it could affect restrictions still in place in St. Louis County, where a lot of the frustration originated.
The legislation would allow local governing bodies to halt public health orders at any time by a majority vote.
Local control is an important issue and one we support, and we are always wary of lawmakers treading here.