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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s gas tax would increase for the first time in decades under a bill passed late Tuesday by the GOP-led Legislature.

If signed by Republican Gov. Mike Parson, the contentious proposal would raise the state’s 17-cent gas tax to pay for road and bridge maintenance.

The House voted 104-52 to pass the measure, which divided Republican lawmakers.

“I don’t know how much longer we can keep kicking that can down the road,” Republican Rep. Becky Ruth, a supporter, said. “We have an opportunity to invest, make an investment in our roads and bridges, help economic development, bring jobs here and make roads safer.”

Missouri has the second lowest gas tax in the country. Only Alaska has a smaller tax. This bill would raise Missouri’s rate over the next four years to the middle of the road.

Under the bill, the gas tax would increase 2.5 cents a year until the tax hits 29.5 cents per gallon in 2025. Drivers could get a refund if they save their gas receipts.

Finding money to maintain the state’s aging roads and bridges has been a top priority for Parson and fellow Republican Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz.

But even with support from top Republicans, the proposed tax increase faced steep opposition in the GOP Legislature.

Critical House Republicans argued the tax hike would impact poor families the most and framed support or opposition to the tax hike as a test of conservativism.

Several said the tax increase should be put on the ballot so voters can weigh in, but that proposal failed 102-48.

GOP Rep. Dottie Bailey said to colleagues who back raising the gas tax without going to voters: “Don’t even call yourself a Republican.”

“This is why people hate government,” she said.

Tax increases are widely unpopular among Missouri voters. Since voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1996 requiring all tax increases over a certain amount to go to a statewide vote, not a single general tax increase has passed.

The measure also would increase electric vehicle fees by 20% over five years. Fees vary depending on the size of electric vehicles.

Gov. Parson has expressed support for the tax increase in the past. He is expected to sign the law.