MoDOT lobbying comes under fire; MoDOT influence kept Complete Streets out of major transportation bill

Do you, the members of the public get to decide public policy in Missouri or is that a job for MoDOT and its lobbyists?

That is the question being asked by many legislators, as influence of MoDOT and its lobbyists have come under fire in this legislative session. This year MoDOT has continued to work to undermine a number of legislative issues it opposes, including the Missouri Complete Streets Bill.

Maneuvering around HB 683 locks out Complete Streets and other issues MoDOT opposes
The major transportation bill for this session, HB 683, passed both houses of the General Assembly this week. It is likely to be the only major transportation bill passed this session. It started as a minor bill about temporary license plates but had dozens of transportation-related provisions added at a very late moment in the legislative process.

The reason for this last-minute, back-room maneuver was to keep provisions out of the bill that MoDOT opposed--including Complete Streets, which was approved unanimously by the House Transportation Committee and has been included in all proposed transportation omnibus bills from that chamber.

Reports from the General Assembly indicate that MoDOT lobbying played a key role in the maneuvering that moved HB 683 forward without any chance to include the Complete Streets provision or other provisions supported by the House Transportation Committee but opposed by MoDOT.

Is the cart leading the horse?
The question many legislators are asking: Is it right for MoDOT to spend public money to lobby the legislative process and strongly influence legislative decisions affecting MoDOT?

A proposal has been floated and seriously debated to strip MoDOT of all ability to lobby--allowing MoDOT to testify at hearings for informational purposes only.

This would seriously weaken MoDOT's influence in the legislature, because many key decisions about which bills move and what proposals are included--such as the decision to make HB 683 the vehicle for this year's transportation agenda--are made by a few key people outside of committee hearings.

When MoDOT is there, too--out of the public eye and quietly whispering to our elected representatives--does that serve the public interest?

Does the public--through their elected representatives in Jefferson City--get to have a say in forming MoDOT's policy, or is it all up to MoDOT to decide what is best for us?

It is, after all, the public's money that MoDOT is spending.

And there is no question that MoDOT lobbying has very strongly affected the legislative landscape this year.

MoDOT shoots self in foot by opposing Complete Streets
What is unfortunate for MoDOT, is that many who support bicycling and walking, including the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, would more than likely support the new funding MoDOT will soon be seeking--if Complete Streets policies are in place.

But with MoDOT actively opposing Complete Streets through their lobbying efforts, how can we support any new funding for them?

Nobody supports better roads, streets, and bridges in Missouri more than those who bicycle, walk, and run regularly.

But can we support a MoDOT funding proposal that has absolutely no promise of doing anything to meet our legitimate needs and that may, in fact, make our state and communities more dangerous for walking and bicycling?

The answer must be no.

Does MoDOT keep its promises?
MoDOT has a history of breaking promises.

MoDOT has promised--mostly in private--to do better to support bicycling and walking.

MoDOT Director Pete Rahn promised a year ago--when he personally came to the Missouri Capitol to squelch the Complete Streets bill--that MoDOT would take a hard look at its existing bicycle and pedestrian policies and thoroughly update them as needed.

One year later--no progress whatsoever on that front.

MoDOT has made an obvious effort to include more coverage of bicycling, walking, and transit in their PR and and public outreach.

But frankly, private promises and PR just don't cut it--not when they say one thing publicly and then oppose the same thing via backroom lobbying that is far from the public eye.

That doesn't make me feel confident in MoDOT or in its promises.

What do you think--is MoDOT inspiring confidence in you right now?

Update: More on the issue of state agencies lobbying here.

Update 2: More about MoDOT's use of employees to lobby--sending 20 employees to one lobby day, for instance--and why it is a bad idea, here.