by John Hawkins

For those trying to wrestle with the struggle to keep small towns alive, maybe we should review why small towns came to exist in the first place.

Long before rural America there were places where Homo Sapiens gathered because of food supply, shelter from elements or danger, or just because Homo Sapiens tend to be social. As time and the advent of weapons, clothing, and cooked food progressed, those who were skilled in the production of these and related items (and services) established an environment where items of acknowledged value could be exchanged for items of comfort value. (I find it interesting that the acceptance of an otter pelt would have involved much the same “swipe” through the buyer’s hand as today’s plastic authentication. Not to mention that items for small hands were probably “low hanging fruit” near the exchange point.)

Then, somebody invented money. Something you could carry around a lot easier than a chunk of goat cheese or the goats necessary or multiple serfs that you wished to trade for one warrior with armor and weapons.

Fast forward to early America where artisans, hunters, and farmers had established the first “Mall of America,” which also offered certain exotic imports, like tea.

In its infant stages, small town America relied heavily on the same streams as had the indigenous for interconnection. As trails became roads, a pattern of consolidation began to emerge. In average terrain, a horse walks at about six miles per hour. A man walks at about four miles per hour. Places of convergence tended to be about ten miles apart so that roughly an hour’s travel would facilitate trade. Today, the majority of these “centers of commerce” are noted on each side of the highway by opposite-facing trivia markers.

As you have probably noticed, many of our small towns are teetering on the edge of the sinkhole. Why? Because the tactile association has been supplanted by expediency and evolution.

When people travel increasing distances to find employment to fit their skills and stores are conveniently located with a right turn as they head home, the impact on hometown business do add sales tax revenue, that stops well short of the support the once-thriving merchant community once provided to local community services.

If, for no other reason, the increased revenue from a fuel tax increase would at least aid local government in maintaining the infrastructure that at least brings people home at night to keep the community alive.

The money a town receives from fuel tax is based on fuel sold within its borders. No doubt the building of Loves superstation has helped New London. Perry and Center currently rely on one fuel source each, but the roughly 10 and 8 thousand dollar boost respectively can help a lot of streets.

So, it’s not that Missouri’s fuel tax does not need adjusting. The issue is that Prop D, as written, has numerous parasitic attachments to a simple fuel tax issue that voters can’t “line item veto.” Besides, it would seem that more money should go to maintaining roads than to “essential” highway patrol oversight. $65 mil for MoDOT and $100 mil for HP lacks parity. Give me a fuel tax Prop that deals only and fairly with fuel tax and I’m all for it.