Senate panel moves transportation task force forward in search for funding fix

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Apr. 26, 2017 11:05 am

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A task force proposal that would seek to solve Missouri's transportation funding crisis took a step forward Tuesday with a positive hearing in the Senate Rules Committee.

State Rep. Kevin Corlew, R-Kansas City, has authored legislation that would establish the Transportation System Task Force. He is confident the full Senate will follow the House and vote to form the group, which would evaluate the state's roads and bridges, and suggest funding solutions. The diversified group would tour the state, meeting with stakeholders, and then report its findings and an action plan in January.

"Everybody agrees we've got a (transportation) funding crisis, but not everyone agrees on a solution," Corlew said.

Plans call for the task force to have 10 bipartisan members of the legislative branch, as well as someone from the governor's office, directors from the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Department of Economic Development, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and nine members of the public.

Missouri had a Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation that toured the state a few years ago and recommended a sales tax issue, but voters rejected that tax by about a 2-1 margin. Corlew hopes that with lawmakers representing nearly half of the 23-member task force, the group will focus on solutions that can win approval. He is banking on buy-in from the General Assembly and Gov. Eric Greitens.

"We have to recognize there's a new administration in the state and in Washington. We want to get the Legislature and the governor focused on passing a real, viable proposal," Corlew said.

State Rep. Craig Redmon, R-Canton, hopes the task force will build momentum in the General Assembly to address transportation funding. Redmon is frustrated there is no move to pass a funding solution this year.

"Nobody has come up with anything that would fix the funding. My main concern right now is whether we can meet the federal match" to receive all of the money due from federal fuel taxes, Redmon said.

Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna welcomes an effort to find money that will maintain the state's transportation system.

"We know what the problems are, and we know what the funding deficiencies are," McKenna said.

MoDOT has said an additional $825 million is needed each year to handle the 34,000-mile network of roads, 10,400 bridges and other transportation facilities.

Corlew, who serves on the House Transportation Committee, said Missouri has the seventh-largest highway system in the nation, but ranks 47th in funding per mile.

State Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, is chairman of the Transportation Committee. He told the Joplin Globe he would like to see the state raise its fuel tax by 10 cents a gallon to generate an additional $300 million a year for transportation. Reiboldt said he does not like new taxes, but he points out that the average Missourian pays about $30 a month on fuel taxes or other fees. He said people pay more for cellphones.

"We need good roads and need to maintain our road network, so we have to do something," Reiboldt said.

Redmon hopes any funding solution is indexed to inflation so that MoDOT doesn't face a similar funding crisis in a few years.

Missouri's legislative session ends May 12, and there are dozens of bills awaiting concurrence in either the Senate or House. Redmon and Corlew said that time crunch concerns them, but both are optimistic about the task force.

"At some point this will come up on the Senate floor in the next couple of weeks. I had good feedback from the committee. I think its chances are good," Corlew said.