JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Stephen R. Miller, Chair of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, had strong words for those unwilling to raise state taxes to fund a department of transportation that continues to face budget woes.
Miller said after Wednesday’s meeting in Jefferson City that while last week’s unexpected and “serendipitous” revenue boost would allow Missouri to meet its match in money from the federal government, overall funding continued to decline.
“The goal line isn’t just meeting our federal match because just meeting the federal match keeps us at the same mediocre funding we’ve always been before,” Miller said.
The chairman of the commission appeared most exasperated when Reps. Randy Pietzman and Tim Remole asked about using extra funds in a cash account amounting to near $1 billion to repair bridges within their districts.
“We’re just looking for answers,” Pietzman said. “It seems like there is no plan other than just ‘give us more money’ And I don’t think people are going to pay until they see things happen in good faith. I have to sell that to people in my district, and right now they’re not for it.”
Remole later confirmed that people have a lack of faith in the government, reporting that some of his constituents said MoDOT had closed a bridge in his district, not because of safety concerns, but as a way to stiff-arm the populace into paying MoDOT more money. Remole took pictures of his bridge’s damage and posted them to Facebook to try to assuage those fears. They received over 10,000 views.
Miller assured Pietzman there is a plan, but that the big picture complicated the matter of a single bridge being built.
“You told us about one bridge in Missouri,” Miller said. “We have 600 critical bridges, which one would you have us fund first? Which one would you have us design first? What you have said to us is exactly right on, about people’s lives being important, about access to care being important… and we’re trying to figure out how we do that.
“The presentation you have made today is so helpful for us here. We have been trying to educate everyone in Missouri about exactly what you’re talking about today: we have bridges in our state that are in dire need of help and we don’t have the resources to do it.”
Miller thanked both Pietzman and Remole for bringing their cases to the attention of the commission and stated a wish for more lawmakers to do the same.
After the meeting, Miller, a Republican, noted that legislators have bent over backwards to find money from other parts of the budget because they don’t want to be labelled as candidates who raised taxes to potential voters.
“The legislature’s been unable to move forward even with the modest things that are possible,” he said. “There are a lot of political factors at play, there are a lot of people who feel very passionately. They this conscientious objection to raising taxes for any reason.
In addition he says that he believes the HTC has fulfilled its part of the bargain, and now, he would like to see those on the Capitol and those in Washington D.C. hold up their end of the bargain.
“They’ve asked us to run this department as a business,” Miller said. “We’ve tried to respond to that call where we have tried to run lean and mean. We’ve downsized our workforce by 20 percent we sold off 124 facilities and 744 pieces of equipment, but then nobody wants to fund us as a business. What business could survive without funding?”
The HTC also welcomed their newest member Mary Nelson to the board. Nelson is currently the general counsel and chief legal officer for the St. Louis Community College District.
Miller said it would be refreshing to have Nelson on the board as a black woman since they were “terribly conscious” that the board was filled with white, middle aged men and that they would value Miller’s new perspective.