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Missouri Senate Making Progress On Finding A Way To Fix State's Bridges

Missouri lawmakers are trying to come up with a plan to fix Missouri's bridges.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri lawmakers are trying to come up with a plan to fix Missouri's bridges.

Updated on Thursday, April 11 at 3 p.m. with information about the new bonding plan passing:

Missouri lawmakers are close to accepting a plan that would finance the repair of the state's bridges.

The Senate approved a proposal that would have the state issue $300 million in bonds for bridge repair if Missouri receives matching federal funds. It would also spend $50 million directly on bridge projects.

The proposal comes as conservative lawmakers balked at Gov. Mike Parson's $350 million bonding plan. Some didn't want to subject the state to years of interest payments.

If the state gets federal funds, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz's plan would pay off the debt in seven years. The Sullivan Republican said the payments would be about $46 million annually.

In a statement, Parson said he appreciated the "collaborative efforts by the Senate and the House on this shared priority and [I] am encouraged by the important step taken today to get an infrastructure plan on my desk this session."

"While our preference would be for an approach that does not put the fate of long overdue bridge repairs in the hands of Washington D.C., we certainly understand that any proposed plan requires compromise to reach a workable solution," Parson said.

Schatz's proposal still needs another vote before going to the Missouri House. He expects that final vote to be taken on Monday.

Original story:

Missouri senators are making some headway to finance repair of bridges throughout the state. But it’s not necessarily a slam dunk.

The sticking point is conservative antipathy toward taking out debt to pay for one of Gov. Mike Parson’s key priorities.

Parson announced during his State of the State speech a plan for selling $350 million in bonds that would repair 250 bridges. It was his way of trying to bolster the state’s transportation infrastructure after Missouri voters rejected a gas tax hike last year.

But Parson’s plan hasn’t been well received by some in his party. House Republicans are backing a proposal that would devote $100 million for several years to pay for bridge repairs. Some Senate Republicans, like Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, like that approach because it would save the state millions in interest payments.

“I strongly support the House’s fiscally conservative no-debt approach to transportation funding,” Onder said. “I strongly support that as opposed to a deficit-spending approach.”

After debating the issue on Tuesday night and well into Wednesday morning, senators didn’t take up Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz’s proposal. But the Sullivan Republican said there may be a path forward on the issue.

In an interview, Schatz said one possible way forward on the issue is spending $50 million directly on certain bridges. The state would only issue bonds for the remaining $300 million if Missouri qualifies for federal matching funds.

He also said he’s willing to pay the bridge debt off in seven years instead of 15 years — which he noted would save the state a lot of money in interest payments.

“Sometimes it takes time so that we can get people to negotiate and come to a conclusion, and I think we’ve made quite a bit of progress to that,” Schatz said.

Sen. Bill Eigel, R-St. Charles County, was one of the Republican lawmakers who has objected to going into debt to pay for bridges. He said while lawmakers are moving in the right direction on the issue, the debate over the matter isn’t quite finished.

“I think there’s a huge desire to get something done on transportation,” Eigel said. “I don’t think we’re at a point where I can say there’s a deal in place or we’re even close to that point necessarily.”

Schatz said he may bring the bridge plan up on Thursday or early next week. No matter what the Senate ends up doing, senators will still have to negotiate with members of the Missouri House before sending any proposal to Parson’s desk.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.