Filibuster succeeds in defeating SJR 16, historic Missouri Transportation Funding bill, first ever to incorporate biking & walking--so now what's next?

SJR 16, the historic Missouri transportation funding proposal that, for the first time EVER, built transportation options like bicycling, walking, transit, and passenger rail right into Missouri's transportation funding system, came to a final debate on the floor of the Missouri Senate today. 

In March, SJR 16 passed the Missouri Senate by a vote of 22-12. It passed the Missouri House Tuesday by a vote of 100-57.  But the House made a few, minor changes to the text, so SJR 16 had to go back to the Senate for a final vote.
Because SJR 16 had already passed the Senate once, everyone--including SJR 16 sponsors--assumed the measure would pass the Senate again Tuesday evening when it was brought to the Senate floor.

But Tuesday, a few senators then took the opportunity to filibuster the proposal.  SJR 16 supporters have spent the last few days working with opponents, hoping to win them over, but when supporters brought SJR 16 back to the Senate floor today, they announced that the filibusterers won't budge.
So SJR 16 is defeated for the 2013 legislative session, which ends at 6pm today.
SJR 16 sponsors Senator Mike Kehoe (Jefferson City) and Ryan McKenna (Jefferson County) spoke at length today about the need for solutions to Missouri's transportation funding crisis, the years of work that has gone into developing a solution to the funding problem that has support from a broad coalition and passed by houses of the General Assembly by a wide margin, and thanking supporters.
They thanked the broad coalition of supporters who had worked together to craft a solution to the transporitation funding crisis--specifically mentioning the bicycle & pedestrian groups as part of that broad coalition.
They also expressed bitter disappointment with the decision of a very few senators to filibuster SJR 16 and frustrate the wishes of the vast majority of General Assembly members and of broad coalition that stood behind the measure.
A detailed summary of the Senate Floor Debate today is below.
Why did a few senators choose the filibuster SJR 16 during the final week of session, when they had voted against it but chose not to filibuster, when the same measure passed the Senate in March?
A few reasons:
  • Filibusterers have a lot more leverage during the final week of session.  In March, Senate leadership could have let a filibuster continue for days--and that's hard in the filibusterers, especially if there are only a few.  But during the last week of the legislative session, filibusterers can literally run the clock out and stop every piece of legislation from moving forward.  That gives them tremendous leverage.
  • Most filibusterers are adamantly opposed to any tax increase of any kind. The fact that Missouri transportation is facing an immediate funding crisis, the fact that fuel tax revenue has gone way down in buying power over the past 15 years, the fact that transportation is one of the primary responsibilities of government, the fact that voters would get to make the final decision about any tax increase--none of that matters to senators who feel that their mandate is to cut taxes no matter what.
  • Some filibusterers believe that private individuals, not the General Assembly, should craft the language and create the transportation funding referendum. To me, this is the strangest argument of all.  It seems that it is the General Assembly's job, with the approval of the people of Missouri, to set the direction of transportation and tax policy in Missouri.  But some senators, notably Senator Ed Emery of Lamar, said clearly and repeatedly that they would rather see private individuals set Missouri's transportation and tax policies through the referendum process.

Many more details about the filibuster, including a list of senators who supported the filibuster, here.


The work to craft a solution to Missouri's transportation funding crisis now passes to private groups like the Missouri Transportation Alliance, who have declared their willingness to develop a referendum and get the signatures to put a funding proposal on the ballot.  The Transportation Alliance is likely to start with the ideas and legislative language that the General Assembly has developed--but how the language and ideas will change or develop from that point forward is very hard to predict.
We plan to work with the Missouri Transportation Alliance to ensure that bicycling and walking are built into any funding proposal they put forward.  But we will need your help and support to make sure that happens.
Hundreds of MoBikeFed members and supporters contacted their senator and representative this year in support of bicycling and walking.  Your personal contacts with your legislators has made a huge difference.
Even though SJR 16 didn't pass this year, just the fact the bicycling and walking was included in the proposal--that it was, for the first time EVER listed as a transportation option on equal footing with every other transportation funding option in Missouri--is a huge, huge step forward.
That step could not have happened with your help--and without the help of thousands of supporters of bicycling and walking across Missouri, like you, who are working together for our common good.
Even though SJR 16 is dead for now, the ideas in it, particularly the emphasis on well rounded, multi-modal transportation solutions that include healthy bicycling, walking, and transit alongside other options, will live in in future transportation proposals.
Because Missouri's transportation funding really is facing a crisis--a crisis that is happening right now and will only worsen in the next few years.  As the crisis worsens, we will inevitably see some sort of solution develop. In our view, safe bicycling and walking must be an integral part of any Missouri transportation funding solution.
And--do I need to say it?--we need your help now, more than ever, to make sure that bicycling and walking get a fair shake in these future transportation decisions.  With SJR 16 off the table, anything could happen now--and your support ensures that, whatever that anything is, it will include bicycling and walking.


Below is a summary of the Senate floor debate and conversations today. Be aware that this represents a summary of the discussion and conversations, not exact or stenographic quotations.
Senator Mike Kehoe, Jefferson City: 
Senator Mike Kehoe
Senator Mike Kehoe
Intro: Why there is a problem, the size of Missouri's transportation system, the dwinding amount of funding, the crisis that is on the way.
Fuel economy is good for consumers, good for the market, but it means the amount of fuel tax collected goes down.
Different options for transportation funding have all been explored thoroughly:
Fuel tax - nobody liked it or wanted to support it, very low support in polls
VMT tax - people didn't like that, no support, not ready for prime time yet
Toll roads - explored very thoroughly, brought up & debated extensively in General Assembly,  very strong opposition there
Blue Ribbon Commission - explored alternatives, everyone agrees there is a problem.
After four years, hundreds of meetings, this proposal was the end result
Debate Tuesday in the Senate [When SJR 16 was up for a final vote in the Senate after approval by a vote of 100-57 in the House earlier that day]: Everyone was throwing out lots of good ideas.  But all those ideas have been thoroughly discussed, thoroughly vetted, and the process came down to this proposal that has wide support.  The other ideas don't have that wide support. All the other ideas have some problems, something that keeps them from gaining wide support.
It comes down to: Let the people decide.
Some say, we don't like the idea of a sales tax.  It makes him think of the Boston Tea Party, where people revolted against taxes.  They were revolting against a tax that was imposed on them without their input. But he sees the transportation tax as, present the people with the problem, the reason for the tax, the plan for the tax spending, and then let the people decide whether it is a tax they want to support.
He mentioned that in the Committee hearing in the Senate, nearly everyone testified in support, just a couple of exceptions.  When it came over the House, no one testified against.  So there is some real unified support out there.
MO has 32,000 miles of roads but is 47th in the U.S. on funding for our transportation system.
Senator Ryan McKenna, Jefferson County: 
Senator Ryan McKenna
Senator Ryan McKenna
Because of the actions of just a few, they won't get a chance to vote on this.
He wants to say, "Sorry" to all the groups that have supported this: Chamber of Commerce, Farm Bureau,  the bike people, rail people, transit people, port people, highway commission, Missouri Transportation Alliance [others, I missed many].  He apologizes to his dad, Bill McKenna, former Chair of Highway Commission and current chair of the Missouri Transportation Alliance, who has spent several of the past years meeting with groups and individuals around the state to develop support for a solution to Missouri's transportation funding crisis.
We're not going to get to vote on this today [referring to filibuster; a few senators are dug in to their position to filibuster SJR 16].
He is very disappointed in this filibustering senators and the position the senate and SJR 16 are in now.
The current funding source for transportation is dwindling and regressing.
He doesn't know a more conservative governor that John Ashcroft.  But Ashcroft supported several increases in transportation funding during his governorship.
When we (the General Assembly) write the initiative, we get to write the language.  When it goes to private parties to write the language, we lose the General Assembly's oversight and responsibility to taxpayers.
He learned from Bill McKenna how to move things forward in a bipartisan way. This proposal has deep bipartisan support.
The sad part is, that the General Assembly will put together an initiative petition that is better for the taxpayer and Missouri than one put together by private parties.
Most initiative petitions in recent history, 80% since 1980, have been put together by the General Assembly, not by private parties.
This idea (SJR 16) isn't the idea we started with four years ago.  Rather, it is the result of four years and literally thousands of meetings.
People forget how much MoDOT has changed and improved over the years.  In the past, MoDOT had a Director who literally threatened to chain himself to the door of the building rather than accept any direction or influence from the General Assembly.
It has gone from that to now, where public surveys show that MoDOT is viewed very positively by Missouri's citizen's now.  It has turned around 180 degrees.
People don't realize how much money it takes to maintain all of the roads across Missouri.  Back in the 1950s, MoDOT took on all of the county routes.  So the amount of miles of roads is mind boggling and it does take a lot of money to run it all.
Senator Tom Dempsey, President Pro Tem of the Senate, St. Charles County: 
Senator Tom Dempsey
Senator Tom Dempsey
We have spent a lot of time developing this agenda over the past year and I have been very supportive of it.
I stand together with two-thirds of the members of the Senate in supporting SJR 16.  Contrast the situation with SJR 16 with the progress the Senate made on the Second Injury Fund this year.  Because everyone recognized there was a serious problem with the Second Injury Fund situation, we worked together to solve it.
I have seen cases where the Senate has been pro-active in dealing with a problem, but others where they are reactive, where they wait until the system breaks down or becomes insolvent before they work together to find a solution.  [Implying that the transportation funding situation is one where we are just going to wait until there is a crisis before we address the problem.]
Media asked him, "Why do Senators want to block something that is just going to a vote of the people? Why do they want to stop it from going to a popular vote?"  Kehoe doesn't know why people want to block this--let the people decide!
This is what people hate about this building.  People ask him how he can be at the Capitol and be a part of that dysfunction.  This week, he's not sure why he is.
Dempsey (?) or Kehoe (?):
One of the frustrations with this, is SJR 16 is almost identically the same, except for a couple of small technical changes, to the proposal the Senate voted out in March, without any filibuster.  To find out on Tuesday that there was a problem with a few people planning to stand up and filibuster is frustrating and unfair.
I am going to withdraw my motion.  [Because there are a small number of senators still planning to filibuster, which will insure there is no chance SJR 16 can come to a vote by 6pm today.]
The transportation needs will not have changed at all.  The 32,000 miles of roads will still be there, tomorrow and the next day and the next.
One positive, we have raised the public awareness of this issue.
If we can all agree that there is a problem, that is the first step. 
The proposal has been put together from thousands of participants, polling of the citizens, it wasn't just put together by a couple of senators in one evening.
Some are saying, well, some rich people will just put together an initiative petition.  But if that happens, the General Assembly is not doing its job.
I withdraw my motion.
With that, the debate on SJR 16 ended.  If, by some miracle, the SJR 16 filibusterers were to remove their objections to the bill by 6pm today, there is still a chance to pass it.  But practically, SJR 16 is dead for 2013.
More information about the $8 billion Missouri Transportation Funding Initiative

Remember that through Friday, May 19th, your membership or donation counts as a Legislative Session/Capitol Day Sponsorship for 2013.  Your membership and support of our legislative work for bicycling and walking in Missouri is what makes major advances like this possible.



Image credits:

1. Missouri delegation at the National Bike Summit, MoBikeFed.

2. Waiting for MoDOT by Zaskem, FlickR. License: Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0

3. Senator Mike Kehoe, Missouri Senate

4. SEnator Ryan McKenna, Missouri Senate

5. Senator Tom Dempsey, Missouri Senate

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