No matter what you think of the condition of Missouri’s roads and bridges, expect the system to slide deeper into the ditch before state lawmakers do anything to rescue it.
That’s the only conclusion that those dependent on state-maintained highways can arrive at after witnessing yet another session of the Missouri General Assembly in which nothing was done to improve long-term road and bridge funding.
The state Senate was on board with allowing voters to decide on a 5.9-cent-per-gallon tax increase that would have raised $165 million yearly in additional funds for the state Department of Transportation and $71 million more each year for city and county roads.
The state House refused to go along, with Speaker Todd Richardson reporting his majority Republicans make up “a conservative caucus.”
“This is a caucus that has concerns about any kind of tax increase,” Richardson said, according to Missourinet. “The proposal got more traction this year than it’s had in the past. Ultimately, there just wasn’t enough support.”
This situation would be more understandable if there were broad disagreement about whether MoDOT needs more funding. By far, the biggest disagreement is not about the need but rather about from where the money should come.
One idea floated in the House is to use all money currently going to state tax credit programs to fund roads and bridges. Of course, the tax credits targeted at revitalizing inner cities, spurring economic development and supporting low-income housing all would feel this axe — as if roads are the only pressing need in our state.
Tax credits, as we have written before, should be closely scrutinized and frequently audited to ensure they address a valid interest of the state and deliver on that promise. But arbitrarily cutting all credit programs to pay for roads? There is a reason why this idea was not adopted.
Fiscal conservatives do everyone a favor by causing government to justify those expenses put forward as a priority. Having already done that, boosters of investments in roads and bridges look to these same lawmakers for funding solutions that make sense to taxpayers.
On this point, we also note the recent good fortune reported by MoDOT. The agency said short-term funding for transportation — the next five years — has improved enough for it to commit to a more robust plan of road work than in the recent past. It now falls to MoDOT to explain once again why long-term funding is still a critical need.