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Average gas price soon under $2, lowest since recession

In this May 8, 2015 file photo, gas station attendant Carlos Macar pumps gas in Andover, Mass. Gasoline is close to breaking below a key psychological barrier as drivers enjoy some of the cheapest pump prices since the recession. The nationwide average price of a gallon of regular Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015 was $2.02, down 58 cents from this time last year, according to auto club AAA. Experts say it could drop below $2 in the coming days. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

JEFFERSON CITY • Motorists in Missouri could see higher prices at the pumps under a plan advancing in the Legislature.

The Senate endorsed a plan Wednesday, 21-10, to ask voters in November whether they want to raise the 17-cents-per-gallon motor fuel tax by 5.9 cents.

The proposal moved quickly with little debate and awaits action in the House.

The sponsor, Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, was feeling ill Wednesday evening and said little in support of the measure. Last week he told the Senate the fuel tax is the fairest way to finance highway projects at a time when the list of crumbling bridges and roads is growing.

“If you drive more, you pay a little more. If you drive less, you pay a little less,” Libla said at the time.

Supporters said an increase is overdue. A 2014 referendum to raise the sales tax for highway improvements failed.

“I don’t think a majority of my constituents are too concerned about raising the gas tax. Quite frankly, the wear and tear on their cars because of the deteriorating state of our roads and bridges will cost more than the tax will,” said Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis.

The plan would generate an estimated $165 million in new revenue for state highways and bridges. It also would provide a new funding stream for local governments to use for street improvements.

The plan, if adopted, would bring Missouri’s state motor fuel tax to 22.9 cents per gallon, higher than the 20.88-cent national average, according to the American Petroleum Institute. That doesn’t count other taxes, including federal levies.

Although House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, earlier said the House does not support raising taxes during an election year, he told the Post-Dispatch on Monday that he would discuss the tax increase referendum with members of his majority caucus before deciding on a whether to bring it up for a vote.

Among those voting “no” was Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph. He said he didn’t think voters would support the increase if it made it on the ballot.

Others voting “no” were Sens. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis; Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale; and Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County. Sen. Maria Chappell-Nadal, D-University City, was absent for the vote.

The legislation is Senate Bill 623.

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