JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — In a move that has not happened since the inception of a dedicated fund for transportation, the chairman of the House Budget Committee is proposing to use general revenue to fund repairs for roads and bridges.
On Wednesday, Rep. Cody Smith unveiled a plan that would appropriate $100 million of general revenue to fund transportation infrastructure improvements for FY 2020. This move is instead of the bond proposal made in early January. Gov. Mike Parson proposed in his FY 2020 budget recommendation a $351 million bond to fund 250 bridges in critical condition.
Using general revenue funds instead would save the state roughly $100 million in interest, according to Smith. He noted that it was his intention to continue the $100 million for the next four years.
Smith said the $100 million in general revenue will be dedicated to the State Road Fund for bridge projects in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, which sets the transportation projects the Missouri Department of Transportation will undertake.
“Our state transportation department already has a heavy debt load and has paid more than $700 million in debt payments in just the last two years. The solution to fix our roads isn’t to go further into debt, but instead, to invest wisely and responsibly in our transportation network with the funds we have available,” said Smith, who noted that the department’s 5-year average debt payment is $313 million per year.
The funding allocation for transportation infrastructure is contained in HB 4, which is one of the 13 appropriations bills that make up the FY 2020 state operating budget. The House Budget Committee will work through the bills next week and consider potential amendments. The House will then take up the bills on the floor during the week of March 25-29.
The move was applauded by the Senate Conservative Caucus.
“As conservatives, it is important that we not only ensure that taxpayer dollars are used wisely, but that we also have solutions to meet the state’s needs. This effort does both,” said Sen. Bill Eigel.
“We have found a solution that should meet the transportation needs of the state while spurring economic development. This plan does so without putting a debt burden on Missouri’s families. It will be a big win for our state’s economy,” said Sen. Bob Onder.
However, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz expressed some concern over the proposal. He said he is worried that the state could lose out on $175 million in a grant.
He also pointed out that there is no guarantee that the $100 million in general revenue would be appropriated in the future.
“Planning long term projects, we are talking about a five year strategic plan, we can’t basis it on the fact that we think funding might be there,” said Schatz.
Smith and House Speaker Elijah Haahr held a press conference on the plan Wednesday afternoon.
Alisha Shurr was a reporter for The Missouri Times and The Missouri Times Magazine. She joined The Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University.