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New Missouri Senate road, bridge funding plan faces pushback

April 10, 2019

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Senate leader on Tuesday laid out a potential compromise on how to fund bridge repairs: borrow the $350 million that Gov. Mike Parson requested, but pay it off in less time to save money on interest.

Some fellow Republicans, however, stood up against the idea on the Senate floor even before Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz pitched it.

“I don’t think bonded indebtedness is the way to go,” GOP Sen. Bob Onder said during the debate.

Parson and lawmakers are brainstorming ways to pay for infrastructure repair and maintenance after Missouri voters in November voted down a 10-cent gas tax increase.

Parson in January called for a $350 million bond to quickly pump money into infrastructure and clear the way for other funding to be used for pending road projects. Schatz described that as “a way for the Legislature to show Missourians that we’re serious about taking care of bridges.” The money would pay to fix 250 bridges across the state.

But Republicans, and some Democrats, balked at the estimated $100 million in interest the state would owe over 15 years. And some bipartisan lawmakers from Kansas City and St. Louis raised concerns that not enough bridges from those areas would be fixed with the money.

“There’s nothing in it for St. Louis,” Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed said Tuesday. “I have a problem with that.”

Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith instead pitched putting $100 million in un-earmarked general revenue for roads and bridges for the next several years, which members of the Senate’s Conservative Caucus support.

“That’s more commonsense than borrowing and paying a sum of interest,” Republican Sen. Andrew Koenig said.

Under that proposal, there would be no guarantee that the Legislature would approve another $100 million next year or the year after. Schatz said that would jeopardize a $173 million matching federal grant, although he said the state likely would not be awarded all of that.

Senators debated the bonding plan for hours Tuesday. If it passes that chamber, it still would need support from the House.