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Transportation bill declared dead

May 17, 2001
By: Nick White
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - With only one day left in the legislative session, a much-debated proposal to increase transportation funding will not be considered, the Senate's majority floor leader said Thursday.

"Transportation is dead," Sen. Bill Kenney, R-Lee's Summit, said. "That bill will not pass."

The transportation plan would have raised the state's sales and gasoline taxes, generating an additional $535 million annually for roads, bridges and public transportation.

Transportation waited in the Republican-controlled Senate, where its chances for passage were uncertain. The Senate was also where transportation stopped, a month after the House passed it, and the governor pushed for passage of the House version.

Gov. Bob Holden, who had made transportation one of his top priorities this year, blamed Senate Republicans for the lack of a transportation plan.

"It's only dead if the Senate Republicans say it's dead," Holden told reporters. "The problem on the roads is in their hands."

With transportation apparently now out of the picture, one of the governor's major initiatives of this session has failed. But Holden said he is not writing off the session.

"We've made great strides," Holden said, citing the passage of the tobacco money for the state's budget.

Holden, like many Democrats, insisted the only way to solve transportation problems was through a tax increase in excess of $500 million.

"Without the funding in the bill, you don't repair the roads," Holden said.

But Senate Republicans said raising taxes was not the solution - and they would not compromise with Democrats. Republicans said the issue would have to wait another year if it included a tax increase.

Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia, lambasted Republicans for not the people vote on the Democratic transportation plan, which would go to a vote of the people because it proposes a tax hikes.

"I would love to just have a vote and let the people vote on this issue," Mathewson said. "Vote her up or vote her down, but I'd sure like to have a vote."

The Senate GOP stonewalling of the issue has led the Democrats to say Republicans do not support transportation reform. Sen. Ted House, D-St.Charles County, pointed out that an average of three people a day died on Missouri's roads.

"The Senate Republicans have decided that transportation is not a priority, and that's unfortunate," Holden said.

Although Republicans said they supported transportation reform, they first wanted to reform the state Highways Commission. The commission, which sets transportation priorities, has come under fire from some Republicans, who said it has unfairly favored some parts of the state over others.

"The commission has full control over expenditures over that department, but that commission has really screwed things up," said Sen. John Russell, R-Lebanon, who will not consider a transportation-related tax hike until changes in the composition of the current commission.

Kenney's proclamation that "the transportation proposal is dead" followed a four-hour debate Wednesday night that included a Republican filibuster designed to prevent a vote. Without Senate approval, transportation will not come before voters.