STL Post Dispatch Editorial on the Missouri Transportation Funding Proposal: How a few Missouri Senators failed Missouri

Len Toenjes, President of Associated General Contractors and a board member of Citizens for Modern Transit in St. Louis, wrote a recent editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that gives his take on what happened to the Missouri Transportation Funding Proposal that was recently defeated in the Missouri General Assembly by a few filibustering Senators, and where the proposal is headed in the future: 

Len Toenjes
Len Toenjes

The Missouri Legislature has once again failed to address the critical statewide transportation issue that is important for safety, economic development and the quality of life in our state. Success or failure of an important transportation bill on the final day of the 2013 legislative session hinged on the objections of fewer than five senators. These few individuals blocked the Senate from providing the citizens of Missouri with the opportunity to make a choice concerning their transportation future.

I served on the speaker of the House’s Blue Ribbon Transportation Commission last year. In a series of hearings across the state, countless business and civic groups and interested individuals attended to describe the transportation needs in their area. At each hearing, the list of needs grew longer. It became very apparent that the citizens of the state cared about transportation safety and development by taking their time and effort to have their voices heard at these hearings.

Sens. Mike Kehoe and Ryan McKenna are to be commended for reaching across the aisle and introducing a bipartisan bill in the Legislature to address these needs. Senate leader Tom Dempsey also was instrumental in the effort. Utilization of a temporary 1-cent sales tax to fund the needs expressed by the public was deemed to be the most equitable future funding format for all citizens and for all modes of transportation. It is rare when the Missouri Transportation Alliance, Missouri Farm Bureau, St. Louis Regional Chamber, AGC of St. Louis, organized labor and Citizens for Modern Transit all agree on an issue, but all of these groups, including many others across the state, supported the concept of allowing the voters to decide. The bill also was passed by both the House and Senate transportation committees with recommendations to move the issue forward.

Sens. John Lamping, Robert Schaaf, Ed Emery and Dan Brown disagreed. Their filibuster during the final week of the legislative session killed the bill. Conversations inside the state Capitol during the final week indicated that the bill would have passed the Senate had it been able to move to a final vote. Missouri citizens will now be denied the opportunity to vote on any funding option to address the very needs they brought to their legislators’ attention during the recent hearings.

So Missouri enters yet another year without any prospect of fixing our transportation funding dilemma: a year following the reduction of MoDOT’s project budget by nearly 50 percent; a year following dramatic cuts in staffing by MoDOT; and a year during which construction unemployment continues at a double-digit pace. Maintenance of the current system is about all we can hope for while the needs of our state continue to grow.

Where do we go now? Some options are to try this effort again in next year’s legislative session (with the same mix of legislators and their parochial concerns), hope for a miracle from the federal transportation funding (highly unlikely in the gridlocked conditions existing in Washington), begin work on an initiative petition process to create a transportation ballot issue (a very costly and, basically, a forced end run around a dysfunctional Legislature), or continue to languish. Meanwhile, other states move ahead with transportation developments that create new travel routes around Missouri, driving jobs and economic development to other markets.

I fear that the actions of a relative few have hurt the many and have saddled Missouri with this last option.

The Missouri Legislature needs to wake up and realize that Missouri is falling behind in jobs and economic development, and our state is losing its competitive edge because of our aging infrastructure and transportation system. I urge you to contact your state legislators, business associates, family, friends and neighbors and join our bipartisan coalition working to create desperately needed transportation funding.

The proposal, several years in development, was the first ever to fully incorporate funding for bicycling, walking, and transit into the Missouri state transportation funding system.  

We are hopeful that any future state transportation funding proposals will start from the positive baseline established in the 2013 legislative session--but we'll have to stay vigilant, because after this defeat in the Missouri Senate, the proposal could change in any number of ways.

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