The Missouri House’s Budget Committee Chairman has unveiled his plan for paying for road and bridge work in the state, in place of the plan proposed by Governor Mike Parson (R) in January.
Representative Cody Smith’s (R-Carthage) plan is to use a $100-million from the state’s General Revenue Fund to support the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), which is the Department of Transportation’s plan for road and bridge improvements for the coming years.
Parson’s plan called for using $351-million in bonds to replace or repair 250 bridges throughout Missouri. The bonding would have been paid back with about $30-million from the state’s General Revenue fund for 15 years.
Smith said it is important to focus on creating a plan that would funds transportation infrastructure but not put the state further into debt.
“We spend hundreds of millions of dollars in debt service every year … when we have an opportunity to make a similar impact on the bridges that have been identified as in need of repair over the course of four years and thereby save the state $100-million over 15 years I think we out to try to take that opportunity,” said Smith.
The Department has paid more than $700-million in debt payments in the last two years, and its average payment is $313-million a year.
Smith proposes spending $100-million in general revenue on roads and bridges in the next four years’ budgets or more. That would be subject to the appropriation process in each of those years. Smith potentially will be the House budget chairman throughout that time, and therefore would be in a position help make that happen.
State budget experts say General Revenue has never been used to pay for transportation infrastructure. That is usually done with funds earmarked for that purpose. Smith said it’s time to consider a fundamental change.
“The budget is a reflection of the state’s priorities and amongst those priorities should first be the core functions of government and I’d certainly put transportation infrastructure amongst the core functions of government,” said Smith.
Columbia representative Kip Kendrick is the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. He called Smith’s proposal bold and a part of a larger discussion about how Missouri’s transportation infrastructure should be paid for, but funding it with general revenue would pit it against other priorities supported by that fund, like K-12 and higher education.
“A hundred million dollars in general revenue, I believe, sets a potentially bad precedent. I don’t know how you ever unwind that,” said Kendrick. “I think we need to be looking at long-term solutions and dedicated funding streams to address our infrastructure problems at the state level.”
Smith said weighing the various priorities of the state against one another is the job of the legislature.
“That is exactly what we’re doing here. We’re talking about how we prioritize transportation versus education versus public safety – that is the process that the General Assembly goes through and I think that’s a natural and appropriate process,” said Smith.
The Missouri Department of Transportation says it is about $8-billion short of being able to fund its transportation needs in the next decade.
Missouri voters in November rejected a 10-cents-per-gallon tax increase to pay for road and bridge work.
Smith’s plan is part of his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. He unveiled that plan Wednesday. Over the coming weeks the House Budget Committee will propose changes to that plan, then send it to the full House for debate during the week of March 25-29. Before the state budget is finalized it must be approved by both the House and the Senate, then the governor could approve, reject, or delay funding from it.