JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers approved a measure Friday that could authorize $301 million in bonds to repair 215 bridges across the state, allowing Gov. Mike Parson to make good on one of his top priorities just hours before wrapping up their annual session.
The final version, however, was not exactly how the Republican governor had outlined it at the start of the session.
The resolution would authorize the bonds only if Missouri wins a federal grant intended to help replace an Interstate 70 bridge over the Missouri River west of Columbia.
The measure also is smaller than the $350 million bond proposal initially outlined by Parson, which would have repaired 250 bridges. Lawmakers reduced the bond costs by instead putting $50 million of general revenue into next year’s budget to help fix 35 bridges.
The bonds would be repaid over seven years with general state revenues, not dedicated road funds, beginning after July 1, 2020.
The House passed the measure 107-31 on Friday.
Parson issued a written statement praising the Legislature for taking “a substantial first step to meeting our state’s infrastructure needs.”
When the measure passed the Senate last month, Parson said he would have preferred not to tie the fate of the bridge repairs to a federal grant decision on the I-70 Missouri River bridge. But he nonetheless thanked lawmakers for reaching a deal.
Parson put forth the bridge bonding plan in January after voters last November defeated a gradual 10-cent a gallon fuel tax increase that would have raised $288 million annually for state highways and $123 million for city and county roads when fully implemented.
State Rep. Kip Kendrick, R-Columbia, a member of the Conference Committee on Budget, said during debate over the resolution that it would leave debt for the next generation. Down the road, when the bonds need to be paid, that money would come from General Revenue, which has not been used for transportation.
That money is generally reserved for education, Medicaid and other services.
“This is not an easy vote,” Kendrick said. “I know exactly what this means to the University of Missouri.”
He said the vote is not a long-term resolution to the straits the state’s highways infrastructure is in.
Neither the fuel tax hike nor the bonding plan would address all of Missouri’s transportation needs. The Missouri Department of Transportation has said there is a $745 million annual funding gap in state road and bridge needs.
“This is just a Band-Aid,” said Republican Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer, of Odessa. “This is not the solution. This is not the end game.”
The bridges slated to be funded by the bonds already are in the transportation department’s short-term repair plan. By directing bond money toward the bridges, the department could free up money to go toward additional road and bridge projects.
News Tribune reporter Joe Gamm contributed information to this article.
This article was updated at 4:35 p.m. May 17, 2019, to add comments from Gov. Mike Parson.
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