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Schatz forges compromise on highway funding

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Sparring factions on a massive transportation bonding bill seemed to come to at least a partial compromise Thursday afternoon — pushing one of Gov. Mike Parson’s administrative priorities a step forward.

The Senate advanced a tweaked version of Sen. Dave Schatz’s massive bonding resolution to the Fiscal Oversight Committee where it will need to survive a vote before the resolution can officially pass.

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 the Missouri Department of Transportation 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. 

“This is the result of extensive conversation with several senators, and I want to thank them for working with us on this,” Schatz, the president pro tem, said Thursday.

Although the bill was allowed to advance, conservative senators — who were largely responsible for the overnight filibuster of the proposal, lasting from Tuesday afternoon until early Wednesday morning — still expressed displeasure with the resolution despite the changes. Sen. Bill Eigel, in particular, said he most likely will still not vote for the resolution.  

“As it stands right now, I would reject this resolution on the grounds of constitutional and policy-wise,” Eigel told The Missouri Times, adding: “It’s safe to say we didn’t get everything we want; there’s still more work to be done on this in the coming months and years on this particular issue.”

“The bonding compromise is something we’re all very proud of.”

Eigel and Sen. Bob Onder, who also held court during the filibuster earlier this week, both expressed a preference for the House “pay as you go” plan which would allocate $100 million from the general revenue with the intention of securing additional funding in future years.

Onder declined to say if he would vote for the compromised resolution but said the contingency portion of the proposal has “certainly reduced [his] opposition.”

“If we are going to bond in order to make Missouri more competitive in the INFRA grant competition, then having the bonding triggered by successful award of those federal funds — that approach makes sense,” Onder said in an interview with The Missouri Times.

“What we all agree on is that Missouri has great transportation infrastructure needs, and we need to do something to address those needs,” he said. “I hope MoDOT will prevail in the INFRA grant competition.”

Schatz said he “remains hopeful” the resolution will pass out of Fiscal Oversight Monday and head back to the Senate floor for final passage next week, especially with the “progress” made on the compromise.

“The bonding compromise is something we’re all very proud of,” Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden told reporters Thursday afternoon. “Kudos to Sen. Schatz and a host of characters for working together on that.”

Republicans spar over transportation bonding bill overnight

When it comes to getting House support, Rowden noted he’s had many conversations with leadership and said he believes it’s “where it needs to be to get this thing across the finish line.”

House Budget Chair Cody Smith said from what he’s seen of the latest Senate proposal, it’s a “step in the right direction” that “makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways.”

“I certainly think where the Senate is at has the potential for a very good compromise between the House position and what the governor initially proposed earlier this year,” Smith told The Missouri Times, specifically praising the contingency portion of the proposal.

Parson requested a $351 million bond earlier this year to expedite fixing the hundreds of Missouri bridges needing to be tended. He defended borrowing such a significant amount of money to facilitate the creation of jobs and fix the state’s infrastructure for at least several decades.

“I appreciate the collaborative efforts by the Senate and the House on this shared priority and am encouraged by the important step taken today to get an infrastructure plan on my desk this session,” Parson said in a statement. “While our preference would be for an approach that does not put the fate of long overdue bridge repairs in the hands of Washington D.C., we certainly understand that any proposed plan requires compromise to reach a workable solution.”

As senators deliberated the proposal this week — particularly between the filibuster and Thursday’s reading — MoDOT officials, House members, and Parson engaged in the discussions as well, Schatz said.

“What we all agree on is that Missouri has great transportation infrastructure needs, and we need to do something to address those needs.”

“The governor has done a fantastic job of highlighting this issue and bringing this issue to the forefront,” Eigel said, noting he had a “productive” conversation with Parson on Wednesday. “We were unable to get to this conversation before Mike Parson became governor. I appreciate his efforts, and we’re going to continue to work with the governor for longer-term solutions.”

“I’ve never disagreed with the governor that transportation was an important issue. … It was just a matter of how we got there,” Eigel said.

Democratic Rep. Kip Kendrick, the ranking minority member on the House Budget Committee, said he has “very real concerns” regarding the bonding bill, particularly with the amount of general revenue money tacked on and potential detriment to education funding as the bonds would become a top priority to repay. However, he said he’s not fully opposed to the Senate proposal.

“I see a very real scenario where there will be a downturn, and in order to pay that debt back, you’re going to be cutting into K-12 education,” Kendrick told reporters.