A plan to use $301-million in bonds to repair 215 of the state’s bridges is now in the hands of the House Budget Committee.
Governor Mike Parson (R) proposed the original idea, which was revised in the Senate to lower the cost of interest on the bonds. The Senate voted last month 26-7 to send it to the House.
The provisions of Senate Concurrent Resolution 14 would be triggered if the state accepts a federal grant to pay for replacement of the I-70 bridge over the Missouri River at Rocheport.
“I would not be advocating this proposal if it were not for the Rocheport bridge,” said the resolution’s sponsor, Senate President Pro-Tem Dave Schatz (R-Sullivan). “I think that is so critical to our state and to the movement of freight across this state. That’s how important it is – for us to go down this path of bonding,”
Schatz told the committee that it would be up to the Department of Transportation whether to accept a federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant if it could receive enough in that grant to proceed with the Rocheport bridge project.
The state is asking for a grant of $172-million, but might get less. Schatz said it would need to receive $50-million or more in order to build that bridge.
The issue some lawmakers expressed with the proposal is that it would require the use of money from the state’s General Revenue fund to pay down the bond debt. GR money has never been used for transportation, and some lawmakers fear setting the precedent that it can be.
“I understand the immediate need. I understand the importance of the Rocheport bridge … if that bridge were to fail that’s a national problem, but I think about what happens in this body 10, 20, 30 years from now,” said Kansas City representative Greg Razer (D). “The last thing I want to see is for us to set a precedent where in future General Assemblies the people sitting in our seats right now decide which roads get built, when they get built … a member’s political weight in this building should not be deciding which roads get built and when.”
Schatz told Razer he agrees and he would prefer to increase the state’s gas tax, but he recalled that three previous transportation funding proposals have failed either before Missouri voters or in the legislature.
“I believe it’s critical for us to do something … not long term, I agree, [this] is not the right way to do this, but right now we have something before us that is critical in nature,” said Schatz. “Four to six, or eight hour traffic delays on I-70 is unacceptable.”
Razer said in some way the legislature must find a long-term solution for transportation funding so the Department can make long-term plans and quit going deeper in debt for maintenance and upgrades. In the meantime, he said he has a tough decision to make about SCR 14.
“I’m in a position now of what I consider two bad votes. I vote, ‘Yes,’ and I’m voting to put us more into debt and opening up Pandora’s Box of GR. I vote, ‘No,’ and we have eight hour backups on I-70. That’s the position I’m in,” said Razer.
The committee has not voted on SCR 14.