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State agencies face increased costs with higher gas prices

April 18, 2005
By: Jeana Bruce
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - In addition to aggravating Missouri drivers, the rising prices of gasoline is costing Missouri state government.

A number of state departments says they're also feeling the effects.

According to the Energy Center at the Natural Resources Department, drivers are paying an average of a quarter more at the pump this month than last. They report the average price at $2.17 per gallon, an increase of 54 cents from last year. Diesel gas costs are rising even higher, with an average cost of $2.23 per gallon, a 43 percent increase from 2004.

Jeff Briggs, spokesman for the state Transportation Department, said the state was struggling to fill up its 4,000 vehicle fleet.

"We use about 10 million gallons of fuel a year and the high gas prices, we've got to pay them just like everybody else," he said. "Each penny in increased fuel price costs MODOT, costs the taxpayers, about $100,000 a year."

At that rate, the increase of 54 cents from last year cost the department $5.4 million.

Briggs said contractors working for the department that do heavy construction work were also facing increased costs.

"They pass those costs onto us in terms of higher construction bids," Briggs said.

Briggs added that the increases would not boost revenue from the state's gas tax because it is fixed at 17 cents per gallon.

"Whether gas costs a dollar a gallon or five dollars a gallon, our revenue is the same," Briggs said.

Kristi Jamison, spokesperson for the Economic Development Department, said that Missouri has a relatively low gas tax compared to other states.

According to the American Petroleum Institute, only four states have a lower tax than Missouri's 17 cents. Alaska is the lowest with a 12 cent tax. Hawaii is the highest with 35.1 cent surcharge.

Jamison said that although summer vacationers may choose to travel fewer miles, this could be good for Missouri because of its central location.

Cap. Chris Ricks, spokesman for the Highway Patrol, said that the gas prices would not affect his department before July 1 because of a supplemental budget increase from the legislature.

Ricks said the current budget has allocated $1.60 per gallon for the Highway Patrol, and although they buy the gas at wholesale prices, it is still not enough at the moment.

According to Ricks, the Patrol goes through 1.6 million gallons of gas per year. For them, a 10 cent increase equals $167,000 increase annually.

"If the price goes up, we can go back to the legislature and ask for a supplement again next year which is what we had to do this year," Ricks said, adding "there is no guarantee on that because the money just may not be there."

Ricks said the Patrol was trying to conserve gas by having troopers sit with their engines off instead of driving on patrol.

"It is kind of like a fire department only sending one truck," Ricks said.

According to the national Energy Information Administration, gas prices are expected to remain at an average of $2.28 a gallon, despite recent drops.