The Missouri House Budget Committee chairman proposed a $100 million transportation infrastructure plan on Wednesday, a plan that does not raise taxes nor incur new debt.
State Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, represents southwest Missouri’s Jasper County. I-49 runs right through his district, which has a strong transportation presence.
Chairman Smith has concerns with the governor’s $350 million bonding plan to repair or replace 250 deteriorating bridges.
“My intention is to try to address the same concerns with bridges that he has kind of shown a spotlight on, but do that within the confines of our budget as it exists now,” Smith says.
Smith says the state Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has paid more than $700 million in debt payments in the past two years. He also says MoDOT’s five-year average debt payment is $313 million per year.
“The solution to fix our roads isn’t to go further into debt, but instead to invest wisely and responsibly in our transportation network with the funds we have available,” says Smith.
Smith says he’ll work with Governor Mike Parson (R) to find a transportation solution, and the governor’s office says they’re confident that a final transportation agreement with lawmakers is possible, before the end of session in May.
Smith’s concern with the governor’s bonding bill is debt.
“When we have that opportunity to make a similar impact on the bridges that have been identified as of need of repair over the course of four years and thereby save the state $100 million over 15 years, I think we ought to try to take that opportunity,” Smith told Capitol reporters Wednesday evening in Jefferson City.
Smith’s plan would use $100 million in general revenue for the state road fund. He says this would be the first time in recent history that general revenue would be used to fund roads and bridges.
Smith says the budget is a reflection of the state’s priorities and that transportation and infrastructure is a core government function.
Smith emphasizes he’ll work with the governor to find a transportation solution, and praises the governor’s commitment to infrastructure and transportation. Smith tells Missourinet he’s met with Governor Parson.
“I left that meeting with an impression that we are going to work together to find a solution for this, and I want to be clear it’s because he’s (Governor Parson) drawn attention to this matter and led the way on the issue, that’s why we’re having this conversation,” Smith says.
Missouri’s 17-cent-a gallon gasoline tax has remained the same since 1996.
Governor Parson campaigned heavily for Proposition D, which would have increased the state’s gasoline tax by ten cents per gallon to help pay for highway and bridge improvements. Missourians defeated the measure at the polls in November, by about 173,000 votes.
Transportation was a big theme for Governor Parson during the January 31st Missouri Press Association and Associated Press (AP) day at the Capitol, where the governor answered questions from reporters for 43 minutes. Governor Parson told reporters that day that while his plan doesn’t fix Missouri’s infrastructure issue, it will help.
“I’m going to try my best, I’m going to try my best to make sure that that gets through the process to realize that the state of Missouri is doing something,” Parson told reporters at that January 31st event.
Governor Parson’s office issued a statement to Missourinet on Wednesday, following Chairman Smith’s announcement.
“During the State of the State, the Governor shared his vision and top budget priorities that focus on workforce development and infrastructure. The House budget proposal maintains a number of the Governor’s priorities, which is very promising, but they have also proposed a different route to our shared priority of infrastructure. With plenty of time left in this year’s session, we are confident a final agreement is possible. The Governor will continue discussions with both the House and Senate to reach an end result that moves Missouri forward,” the statement reads, in its entirety.
Click here to listen to the full seven-minute press conference with Missouri House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, which took place at the Statehouse in Jefferson City on March 6, 2019: