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Democrats Propose Fixing Highways With $2 Billion Over Six Years

January 25, 2000
By: Michael Patrick Carney
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The latest short-term solution to Missouri's crumbling highways came Tuesday from Democrats in the General Assembly. They want to cap bond issues at $2 billion through 2007 and give the legislature virtual veto power over when and where roads are repaired.

Led by House Speaker Steve Gaw, Democrats in both houses announced the plan.

"I want to emphasize this is not going to fix all the roads," Gaw said. "This is targeted short-term bridge to hopefully a long-term solution."

The proposal, which would use funds secured by the existing fuel tax, delays bond-financed construction until next year.

"It will take that long to pass this bill and set that in process," thundered Sen. Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia. Assembled legislators abruptly left the room en masse soon after reporters pressed for specifics, including a specific timetable.

This is the latest in a series of proposals to fix Missouri roads.

Last week, House Republicans said they want to replace the six-member bi-partisan Highways Commission with a Transportation Secretary to be appointed by the governor.

Congressman Jim Talent, the leading GOP candidate for governor, has proposed a $10 billion ten-year bond issue for road repair. According to a draft of the bill provided by the House Speaker's office, Talent's proposal would be limited because of the spending cap.

The leading Democratic candidate for governor, Missouri Treasurer Bob Holden, said Tuesday he favors the Democrats' new plan.

Under the proposal, the Highways Commission would have to ask the legislature for project-specific money each year.

This may be unconstitutional, said one House Republican leader, who termed the plan "Talent light."

"We don't want to have the kind of pork barrel we see in Washington," said Rep. Steve Ehlmann, R-St.Charles County. "I have no doubt there would be attempts to do that."

The state's AAA bond rating -- which allows municipalities to borrow money at a lower interest rate -- would not be adversely affected by the proposal, said Christopher Romer, an investment banker who analyzed the plan on behalf of the Democrats and Missouri Department of Transportation.