JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – When U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, spoke to the Missouri House of Representatives Thursday morning, he spoke on healthcare, transportation and a few other subjects.
However, he also spent time talking about the importance of Missouri’s waterways and the port system that provides the state with real economic stimulus.
For Rep. Becky Ruth, who towards the latter part of 2015 chaired an interim committee on Missouri’s ports, the advocacy about a topic on which she has spent a great deal of time from such a high-ranking official makes her confident that the work she has done is largely validated.
“With our ports, it takes state resources and federal resources, and to be able to work together to move our ports forward in our state, and the fact that our federally elected officials understand the importance of our ports and what an economic development tool we have here in our state is very reassuring,” she said.
Both Ruth and Blunt have focused their attention on this product much more often in recent years, as a result of a coming global shift to the way trade is conducted. Blunt says that global food demand is expected to be double its current rate in the next 50 years, and Ruth’s committee found that the widening of the Panama Canal and the prospect of open trade with the nation of Cuba. They argue these factors, along with a few others, means the prospect of increased demand for Missouri agricultural and manufacturing goods… so long as they can get to market.
They also believe the best way to ship to that global market is through the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, two of the largest waterways in the world which both happen to flow through Missouri.
“The rivers, particularly the Mississippi River, are a huge advantage to us,” Blunt said. “Ten years from now, we’re going to… look at world economy as it relates to food and agriculture and manufactured goods, and we’re going to think one of two things: ‘It’s a good thing we started getting on top of this when we did, so we now dominate these markets,’ or ‘Gee, if we had only known that this was going to be twice as big 50 years from now as it is today, we should have done something about it.’”
While Blunt has done some work on the federal side to improve inland waterways, Ruth’s bill acts as a more concerted effort and a bipartisan one at that, considering her committee came to a strong consensus.
“It’s not just a Republican or Democrat thing,” she said. “All of us have ports within the districts, whether they’re Democrat or Republican, and I think our committee worked very well as a bipartisan committee.”
Ruth’s bill, HB 1989, would establish the “Waterways Trust Fund.” That fund would consist of multiple taxes and fees, such as the state sales tax on boats and outboard motors, the first $2 million collected annually from the certificate of number fee, outboard motor registration and title fees, along with some others. That revenue would go into a designated fund after appropriation from the General Assembly and administration by the Missouri State Highway and Transportation Commission under the Missouri Department of Transportation, which distributes it to the Missouri Port Authority.
Ruth says House leadership is open to the idea, but she does not know the ultimate fate of the legislation, especially with other issues taking the forefront this session.
“There were people that helped me with some of tweaks and made suggestions to the bill,” she said. “I can’t tell you… where it’s going to go, it will just have to make it through the committee process.”