Road money fight not easy, Bond says

Friday, December 13, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- When U.S. Sen. Kit Bond earned what he called the "dubious distinction" of being involved in the last fistfight on the Senate floor, it was during heated debate on a highway funding bill.

"It is, I hope, the last time we come to blows over highways. But I tell you, it is going to be close this year," Bond said of the coming effort to draft new federal highways legislation.

Bond, R-Mo., will chair the Senate subcommittee that will write the bill to allocate $28 billion to $33 billion to the states over a six-year period beginning Oct. 1, 2003.

During a Thursday speech, however, he warned state transportation officials and stakeholders not to expect him to dramatically increase Missouri's share of federal highway spending.

Simple mathematics, Bond said, stands in the way of getting that done. While 20 states, including Missouri, pay more into the highway trust fund than they get back, 30 states receive more than they contribute. As a result, senators from donor states are outnumbered 60-40.

"Nobody has come up with a solution to that math problem," Bond said.

The federal highways bill is reauthorized every six years. Under the 1992 bill, Missouri received 76 cents for every dollar it paid into the trust fund. With the last bill in 1998, Missouri's take jumped to almost 91 cents per dollar.

While he will try to increase Missouri's percentage of return, Bond said in an interview that it won't be easy.

"When you look at the numbers, the numbers are not in our favor," he said. "But we'll do the best we can to write a bill that's a good one and takes care of some of Missouri's priority needs."

Missouri has collected $3.7 billion in federal highway funds since the enactment of the 1998 bill. For the state fiscal year that ended June 30, federal money accounted for 45.1 percent of the $1.76 billion the Missouri Department of Transportation spent on road and bridge projects.

Bond said increased federal money won't solve the state's transportation funding problems, which include ensuring MoDOT will continue to have sufficient state matching funds necessary to receive federal spending.

MoDOT spokesman Jeff Briggs said the percentage of a project's total cost that the state must cover varies, but typically it pays for 20 percent and the federal government 80 percent. For interstate projects, federal money usually covers 90 percent of the construction cost.

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