Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) was in Washington on Tuesday morning to talk about the importance of upgrading infrastructure.
With the Highway 47 bridge as a backdrop, McCaskill talked about how she’s working on ways to increase funding to improve Missouri’s deteriorating roads and bridges. McCaskill said she’s worked on two proposed pieces of legislation that could potentially provide billions of dollars in loans and loan guarantees to improve infrastructure without federal tax money.
McCaskill said she is working with both Republican and Democratic senators, including Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) on the two proposals.
The first piece of legislation is the Building and Renewing Infrastructure for Development and Growth in Employment Act, or BRIDGE Act.
“It’s a more traditional infrastructure bank that would allow some investment, but it’s not a silver bullet and it’s not enough money to get at the huge backlog we have across this country,” McCaskill said. “But it would help.”
Partnership to Build American Act
The other legislation is the Partnership to Build America Act. McCaskill said this act is a bipartisan effort to think outside the box and address some problems.
McCaskill said the Partnership to Build America Act would create a $50 billion bond fund that could be leveraged up to $750 billion.
“Now that would be a good shot in the arm,” she said.
The $50 billion would not be from federal money or taxes, but rather from private multinational corporations.
“We would give corporations the opportunity to buy these bonds,” she said. “They would bid to buy these bonds and bring back some of the billions and billions of dollars of profit that they have offshore.”
McCaskill said the corporations, instead of putting money offshore to avoid tax penalties, could redirect the money toward the bonds and pay less than the corporate tax rate.
“We would maximize the amount of tax they’re going to pay, but they would certainly be paying less than they would now to bring it back,” she said.
The bonds would be earmarked only for certain projects and couldn’t be used for anything else.
“If we can’t get our goods to market, we’re in trouble,” McCaskill said. “I think this is a nifty idea. It does everything we need it to do. It provides investment, it does not take federal money, it does not take additional taxes and it actually does bring home work in the United States, but it doesn’t give these corporations a free pass.”
Highway 47 Bridge
McCaskill said she was speaking in Washington because she’s heard numerous times about problems with the Highway 47 bridge over the Missouri River.
“While the bridge is safe, it obviously needs an update,” she said. “It needs more safety and more access for economic development. This bridge is the lifeline of this community.”
The Highway 47 bridge has already secured funding and work is slated to begin in late 2016. Still, McCaskill said with the potential legislation, funding could be sought in a different way that could speed up the project.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if it could be done sooner?” McCaskill asked.
Mayor Sandy Lucy and Bob Zick, chairman of the Highway 47 bridge committee, told McCaskill that more funding is needed for bridge enhancements. They sought her help in this matter.
The legislation would help the entire country, but McCaskill said it could really help Missouri.
“We have a crisis in Missouri,” she said.
McCaskill said Missouri relies heavily on the Highway Trust Fund and that money is shrinking. Money from gas taxes is also going down as people get more efficient cars and drive less. The combination leads to less money to fix roads and bridges.
“We are not gathering as much money for the Highway Trust Fund as we have historically,” she said.
Missouri is ranked 10th in the country for structurally deficient bridges and 45th in road and bridge funding.
“Those two numbers go together,” she said. “We are 45th in the country because we have not kept up with the standards of infrastructure.”
McCaskill pointed out that this year, for the first time she can remember, MoDOT said it will not start any new projects and instead only focus on maintenance.
“They won’t start on this bridge,” she said. “They won’t start on any bridges. They won’t start on any interchanges. All they’re going to do is maintain and it’s because their capital account is down to $600 million from a high of about $1.3 or $1.4 billion. We can’t continue this way.”