An Eastern Jackson County state senator is backing Gov. Mike Parson’s plan to borrow money and fix some of the state’s worst bridges.
“I think it’s a reasonable idea …” Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, said at Friday’s breakfast gathering of the Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce.
The governor has proposed issuing $350 million in bonds to rehabilitate about 250 bridges, generally smaller projects of $8 million or less and that do not qualify for federal money. Parson acknowledges that this doesn’t address the state’s overall transportation needs – this week he called it “a Band-Aid effort” – but said it’s a way to do something within currently available funding.
“We’ve got to figure out a solution within the means we have,” Parson told editors and publishers Thursday.
The state has a five-year plan for road and bridge projects, and dealing with the 250 bridges would move everything else up in the queue. Many of the projects to be bumped up, advocates say, would qualify for federal money – an infusion of aid for a system that state leaders generally agree is badly underfunded.
Still, some senators have pushed back, saying their districts are getting short-changed.
Cierpiot, whose Blue Springs-Lee’s Summit district has none of the 250 bridges, noted this week that Missouri leaders took politics out of selecting highway projects years ago.
“I’m not sure you want politics to come into road building,” he said.
Pleasant Valley Mayor David Slater, who works in Blue Springs and attends many civic functions in the city, added a plea for broader action on roads. He pointed out that the Hancock Amendment to the Missouri Constitution, which greatly restricts revenue increases without voter approval, does leave legislators with the ability to raise the gas tax two and a half cents a gallon.
“Let’s just get it done, before a bridge collapses, before we have something huge,” Slater said.
State Rep. Jon Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, acknowledged the problem as well.
“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road forever,” he said.
Also Friday, City Council Member Susan Culpepper said the General Assembly needs to step up and address what cities see as a crucial tax issue. As more goods are bought and sold online, some cities are missing out on those sales taxes, which carry the formal name of “use taxes.” Many cities in Missouri have extended their sales taxes to online sales, but Blue Springs and Independence voters last year said no.
The name itself is confusing, and Culpepper said voters have already approved local taxes for things such as streets and parks so this amounts to having to go to them again just to collect taxes they have already approved.
Cities without use taxes say they are struggling. Blue Springs puts the gap at $400,000 a year.
“This is a big deal for the cities, and it needs to be addressed,” Culpepper told legislators.
“I agree with you. I think it’s time,” Cierpiot said – but added that it doesn’t seem likely a fix will get passed in the General Assembly this year.