JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Republican Sen. Bill Eigel may have suffered the first defeat in his legislative career, but he has no intentions of taking it lying down.
The freshman senator from St. Charles’ bill concerning transportation funding failed to pass during an executive session vote in Thursday morning’s meeting of the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee.
Eigel’s transportation bill, or SB 457, sought to invest $2.7 billion in the state’s transportation system, including $2 billion to completely overhaul I-70. His plan would have used general revenue funds to offset the costs, rather than creating new taxes and toll roads or raising user fees.
The news comes just a day after the House of Representatives voted down a potential six-cent increase to the motor fuel tax.
“I remain adamantly opposed to increasing motor fuel taxes. It is a failed solution to our transportation funding problems especially when we are sending more tax dollars to Jefferson City than ever before,” Eigel said. “Every time there is a problem in Jefferson City, the only solution is to throw more money at it.”
The move came as a shock to Eigel, who voiced his displeasure with the whole affair on the Senate floor just a short while later. Eigel said he thought he had the votes in the committee to continue moving the legislation forward, that senators were interested in the bill.
“I understood, going into the morning, that we had four votes. One member was missing, and that made it vulnerable,” Eigel said.
The bill failed in committee by a final vote of 3-3, with Sen. Bob Dixon absent from the vote.
“It’s really unfortunate. We have the biggest budget we’ve ever had, and for us to not be able to find a portion of that and apply to the critical infrastructure of the state is really disappointing,” Eigel said. “But what is even more disappointing than that is even the discussion was squashed. There’s a lot of different ideas about how to solve the problem, but what we really need is dialogue.”
The freshman legislator said that he was reminded that he was new to the Senate and a freshman multiple times, though he didn’t believe any of it was meant to be personal or demeaning.
“A lot of the statements made this morning are correct: I am a new voice,” he said on the Senate floor. “But part of that is bringing new ideas forward.
“Shutting down the debate and not having time on the Senate floor to discuss an issue as important as transportation, there’s something wrong,” he continued. “If we can’t talk about transportation while a transportation bill is on the floor, then we will talk about it while others are on the floor.”
While inquiring of Sen. Rob Schaaf, Eigel said that other senators want a solution to the transportation problem as badly as he does. He said the issue was that they disagreed on how to get there.
Schaaf reminded Eigel that now that his bill had been heard in committee, he could always attach it as an amendment to every bill moving forward on the Senate floor.
“You should feel lucky that you are a senator,” Schaaf said. “When you’re in the Senate, you can come out on the floor and let the world know what happened.”
Whether the senator will filibuster bills remains to be seen, but his statement issued later in the day implied that this wouldn’t be the last time he would bring up the debate on transportation.
“I am disappointed that certain members of the committee chose not to have a formal discussion on the Senate floor about transportation,” Eigel said. “However, I will be sure to find informal opportunities on the floor to continue the conversation to discuss the importance of transportation funding.”
The senator says that he intends to file the legislation again in the next session, but first, he plans to start the dialogue as soon as possible.
“There is more of a need for that discussion than ever before, and every day that goes by, our highways and bridges only get in worse shape,” he said. “The fact that we passed up an opportunity to spend some time on that discussion is unfortunate for the constituents of each senator.
“We’re going to have a discussion about transportation, one way or another.”
Benjamin Peters was a reporter for The Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine and also produced the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined The Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield.