JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Republican-led Missouri House on Tuesday advanced a $100 million spending plan for roads and bridges that one Democrat said would mean “paving our roads on the backs of higher education.”
Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith’s proposal is unusual because it draws from un-earmarked general tax revenue. Road and bridge work has previously been funded primarily through the state’s gas tax, federal funding and fees.
During Tuesday’s debate, several Democrats criticized the plan for taking money from the same pot that’s used to pay for services like public education, public defenders and care for people with developmental disabilities.
“We’re taking this money and literally paving our roads on the backs of higher education,” Democratic Rep. Greg Razer of Kansas City said.
Smith’s plan is one of several competing proposals — including a plan by GOP Gov. Mike Parson to borrow $350 million for bridge repairs — to fund infrastructure after a gas tax hike on the November ballot was defeated.
The recommendation to borrow millions hasn’t played well with some of Parson’s fellow Republicans in the Legislature. Smith said by using existing funds instead, the state would save an estimated $100 million in interest on debt payments.
“I’m opposed to going further into debt as a state when I see very clearly that we can afford to take a pay-as-you-go approach,” he said.
Smith also said he intends to continue pouring $100 million into infrastructure each year for the next several years, but that’s not guaranteed.
Razer said that uncertainty would make it difficult for the Missouri Department of Transportation to plan construction projects that sometimes take years to compete and can cost significantly more than $100 million.
Other highlights of the draft budget include roughly $61 million more for core K-12 education funding compared to the current fiscal year and flat funding for colleges and universities. The fiscal year ends in June.
The budget package also includes a ban on state money from being used to expand who is eligible for Medicaid under former President Barack Obama’s health care law, despite an unsuccessful Democratic attempt to strip out that ban.
The bills need another vote of approval in the House to move to the Senate.
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