What's next for Missouri's transportation needs after the overwhelming defeat of Proposition B?
Again, the age-old question recurs: What is to be done about major road projects that won't be done because of a lack of funding?
One answer that commends itself to members of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission is toll roads. Many states have them, including our neighboring states of Illinois, Kentucky, Kansas and Oklahoma. By definition, toll roads rely on the tried-and-true concept of user fees.
On the negative side of the ledger, Missouri voters haven't warmed to the idea of toll roads, as proposed constitutional amendments allowing toll roads have met defeat at the polls. Whether this opposition may soften as more citizens awaken to the funding problems in Missouri's transportation system is anyone's guess.
Historically, toll roads aren't new to Missouri. In the days of the state's early settlement, tolls were frequently levied to pay for the upkeep of what few roadways were passable. And in the early part of the last century, tolls were commonly imposed to pay for the construction of new roads and bridges -- including the bridge over the Mississippi River here in Cape Girardeau. More recently, tolls were collected at major bridges across the Missouri River in Kansas City in the last half of the 20th century to pay for new construction and major upgrades.
Even if today's voters were to approve them, toll roads aren't likely to be more than a part of the overall highway solution, and perhaps not even a very significant one. Much more pressing is the need for fundamental reform in management at MoDOT, as well as a fundamental budgetary reform throughout state government.
Without question, roads and transportation are one of the primary functions of state government. Why have they been slighted these last 10 years under the last three governors (Bob Holden, Roger Wilson and Mel Carnahan)? For nearly all that time, state revenue was growing at explosive rates. Why wasn't some of that increased funding channeled into addressing our transportation needs?
As the Holden administration flounders on transportation financing, it is increasingly clear that the will to conduct this fundamental budgetary and management reform is altogether lacking. Not only did Holden back a transportation tax package twice as large as the one voters crushed last week, but his answer to every budget issue is higher taxes.
It is this business as usual that Missouri voters so soundly rejected last week. It will take lots of work and principled leadership to change things for the better.