Gov. Jay Nixon’s State of the State address Monday covered a lot of territory.
Saying that we need to move the state forward with courage and conviction, he proposed expanding the state’s Medicaid program and using bonds to finance hundreds of millions of dollars in improvements to schools, parks and state buildings.
He spoke on bipartisanship at the Capitol and the need for more of it to address the challenges facing our state.
He discussed education funding and the need for campaign finance reform and the importance of making our state more competitive in a global economy.
Nixon said our children are our first priority, pointing out that we have a unique opportunity to build a better future for them and that we must seize it.
It was a good speech, but conspicuously absent in the governor’s remarks was any mention of our state’s transportation issues.
That was surprising given the extent and scope of the problem. By any measure, transportation is a major issue in our state.
A report issued in late 2011 found 18 percent of the state’s bridges were “structurally deficient” and another 20 percent of rural roads were “functionally obsolete.” That was the 12th highest percentage of obsolete roads in the country.
When you consider all of the other roads that need rebuilding or other improvements like Interstate 70 or Highway 47 here locally, and the fact that the Missouri Department of Transportation’s budget has been decimated in recent years, you begin to understand the magnitude of the problem.
Missouri’s roads and bridges are suffering from a lack of investment. So are our public transit systems. The state of Missouri ranks near the bottom of the list (45th) for funding of public transit.
The list of our state’s transportation woes is long. Addressing those woes is one the most pressing problems confronting the state.
Yet, the governor didn’t even mention it. Which was surprising, given the fact he endorsed a proposal to issue bonds to finance other building projects.
It was also a noteworthy omission because there is a plan being discussed by lawmakers this session to place a 1-cent sales tax measure before voters to address the transportation problem.
The proposal could generate close to $8 billion for highway infrastructure over 10 years and would go a long way to solving one of the state’s biggest problems.
Moreover, there appears to be early bipartisan support for the plan in the Legislature and among various stakeholders.
On Monday, the Washington Highway and Transportation Committee endorsed the sales tax plan.
Two local state representatives, Dave Hinson and Dave Schatz, both Republicans, have thrown their support behind the sales tax proposal. Schatz pointed out that MoDOT doesn’t have enough money to maintain roadways now, let alone expand.
That is the kind of courage and conviction we need in the area of transportation which we believe is the key to moving Missouri forward.