Meeting With Sen. Blunt

Sen. Roy Blunt, left, shakes hands with Bob Zick, Washington’s special bridge committee chairman, during an informal session Friday afternoon at city hall. In the background is City Administrator Jim Briggs. Sen. Blunt was not optimistic about increased federal funding for transportation, including the Washington bridge over the Missouri River. Sen. Blunt pledged his support and toured the city.

Federal government problems are hitting home, according to one U.S. senator.

Republican Sen. Roy Blunt told a small group at the Washington City Hall Friday afternoon that the federal government had “seemingly ceased to function for several years.”

He likely was speaking about Congress and the White House, as governmental agencies have still been in operation even when those branches are on breaks and holidays.

Blunt said the federal government has not had an annual budget for about 940 days and “is barely able to keep the doors open.”

He said the lack of progress has made it hard for local and state governments to get things done, including funding a new Highway 47 bridge in Washington.

Mayor Sandy Lucy said the bridge committee has kept the project moving forward, despite the lack of a long-term federal transportation bill.

“It’s important to pass a transportation bill,” she told Blunt. “We feel if funding were to become available, we could be ready to go, be next in line.”

Blunt said the federal government’s internal debate over “if it wants to become western Europe or not” has led to the standstill, including the lack of a transportation bill.

Once that debate is figured out, he said, Congress can move forward with large-scale plans like a transportation bill.

MoDOT Not Moving

Bob Zick, chairman of Washington’s bridge committee, said MoDOT can’t commit to a $50 million contract with only six-month transportation bills.

John Griesheimer, Franklin County presiding commissioner, said the state lacks funding for more than just big projects.

“There are still MoDOT employees who don’t know if they have a job or not,” Griesheimer said.

The state agency is restructuring amid a budget shortfall. The restructuring includes reducing districts and closing some maintenance facilities.

To get projects done, the state may have to come up with its own funding mechanism, such as a new tax or toll roads, Griesheimer said.

Raising fuel taxes will ultimately be passed on to consumers with an increase in prices for transported goods, said Dan Engemann, deputy district director for U.S. Blaine Luetkemeyer.

Engemann noted that trucking industries are opposed to toll roads as well.

“Ultimately, it will be up to the people to decide what’s most important,” he said.

In Missouri, new taxes must be approved by voters because of a constitutional amendment generally referred to as the Hancock Amendment.

Lack of Commitments

“That’s sort of where we are with everything right now,” Blunt said, citing the lack of what he called reasonable government commitments.

“If MoDOT doesn’t have any money, what makes you think the federal government has it?” he asked.

“The answer is not that the federal government is farther away so they’re the ones who should be predicated upon to come up with the solution,” Blunt said.

Blunt said a proposal from fellow Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill to cut infrastructure improvement spending in Afghanistan and instead spend that money in the United States likely won’t go anywhere.

Blunt called the proposal “very good politics,” however.

While he didn’t offer any encouraging remarks for a federal transportation bill, Blunt did say having state and local control for spending projects typically creates better results.

“We’ve got to get as good about spending government money as businesses have in competing on a global level,” he said.

“We may have to look at the transportation system and be sure we’re funding it appropriately,” Blunt said, noting that higher fuel efficiency standards from the White House and electric cars could reduce the amount of fuel tax governments collect.