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House Budget Committee starts vetting bonding compromise for bridge repairs

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The top fiscal hawk in the House is very clear on one point: he does not like being locked in a situation.

In a very calm, even tone, House Budget Chair Cody Smith expressed his opinion on the Missouri Department of Transportation specifically referencing an unissued bond in a federal grant application.

“I would just ask that in the future, applications not be prescriptive to what the General Assembly may or may not do to finance these projects or to raise the amount need to pull down federal grants,” Smith told MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna. “After all we are writing the checks for the ventures you are launching in to. So, please leave that to us, and please do not pigeonhole us into situations like these.”  

The remark came after more than an hour of testimony on the transportation bonding compromise forged in the Senate. SCR 14 was championed by Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz and is a major legislative priority for Gov. Mike Parson. It passed the Senate in a 26-7 vote.

The compromised version creates $301 million in bonds to be paid back over seven years to expedite repair or replacement for 250 bridges in Missouri and is contingent upon MoDOT receiving a highly competitive federal grant. It would cost about $46 million per year but includes an additional $50 million allocated from the general revenue to “jump start” the projects.

The proposal was met with some trepidation from House members concerned about the finer points of the bonding issuance being triggered.

The bond is contingent upon the state being awarded “sufficient funds” through a federal grant. The lack of a specific amount was a point of interest for lawmakers who also inquired as to what are the chances the state gets awarded enough.

Putting a specific trigger in the bill could result in the federal grant being limited to that amount, Schatz told the committee.

Sen. Dave Schatz (TIM BOMMEL/HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS).

“We have asked for an $172 million INFRA grant. If we said we would trigger it at $50 million, we would probably get $50 million,” said Schatz. “If a $10 million INFRA grant comes in, there is no way we can cobble enough resources with $10 million from the info grant to do $300 million in bond and the Rocheport bridge.”

While he noted the likelihood of getting the full $172 million “is not very high,” Schatz does believe Missouri will get a “significant amount.”

McKenna reiterated those points, though he added the compromise was not a network-wide solution but necessary for the transportation system.

Some Democrats voiced hesitation of using the general revenue to fund transportation projects. A particular issue Rep. Greg Razer had was the amount of debt MoDOT currently has.

“We have maxed out the MoDOT credit card. So now we are moving to the general revenue credit card,” said Razer.