JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson’s proposal for a $351 million bond package to upgrade Missouri’s bridges got no pushback during its first public test on Tuesday.
The Senate Rules Committee hearing marked the first legislative discussion of the plan to repair 250 dilapidated bridges since its unveiling at the governor’s State of the State address last month. While several people representing construction, engineering and trucking industries spoke in favor of the resolution connected to the bond plan, no one testified against it.
The item up for discussion, Senate Concurrent Resolution 14, would authorize the Office of Administration to create an agreement for the state to pay back the bonds through annual payments of $29.9 million over the next 15 years.
The sponsor of the resolution, Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said that with lifespans of 50 to 75 years, the repaired bridges would easily outlive the state’s 15-year bond obligation.
“The value of our state transportation network is in excess of $225 billion,” Schatz said. “We cannot allow our system to continue to the point where we can never catch up with the maintenance that’s required.”
Schatz also pointed out that the package will open up money for other projects outlined in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program’s five-year plan.
Patrick McKenna, the director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, agreed that the bonds would have impact beyond just repairing bridges included in the plan. He said the rural bridges upgraded through the bonds may qualify for the federal Infrastructure for Repairing America grant program, which would potentially free up money to repair the Rocheport bridge on Interstate 70.
While no one spoke against the resolution at the hearing, some legislators remain opposed to the plan. Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles, said that despite his support for more transportation funding, he worries about the state adding new debt obligation.
“I wouldn’t completely rule out issuance of bonds… but if we are going to bond and if Missourians throughout the state are going to be going into debt in order to do this, I think the projects need to be delivered equitably,” Onder said.
Not only are there zero projects funded in St. Charles County, Onder said, but “in St. Louis City and St. Louis County combined, only about 4 percent of this $351 million will go to (that area) that really contributes a large percentage of the revenue in our state.”
If the resolution passes out of the Senate Rules Committee, it remains unclear where it will go next. Mike Cunningham, R-Rogersville, who chairs the Senate Fiscal Oversight Committee, said SCR-14 could go to his committee next, and he expects a clearer plan to emerge in the coming week.
Gov. Parson, who proposed the bonds after Missouri voters rejected a gas tax increase to repair the state’s bridges in November, was not in attendance at the hearing. In his testimony, Schatz thanked the governor for proposing a solution that doesn’t raise taxes.
“This hearing is just one step in the process,” Schatz said. “I expect discussions and work on this bill with the committee, with members of the transportation committee and with the Senate as a whole.”
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