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Congress is expected to vote on a nearly trillion-dollar economic stimulus plan today and Missouri wants to be ready.
Missouri Senate President Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, announced on Monday that an economic stimulus committee has been formed to prepare the state for any funds coming from the plan.
Local Senator and Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, has been named to the committee to oversee the transportation leg of the committee. Shields named 13 senators to the committee stating in a press release that each was chosen because of their knowledge and their district’s relationship to the area.
Stouffer is serving in his fifth year as the Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
“We want to make sure Missourians get their federal tax dollars invested back into programs and jobs that can improve our daily lives, rather than going to pay for our neighboring states,” Shields said. “The Obama administration has made it clear they will award the funding to states that can invest in and complete projects quickly and, as lawmakers, we must be ready to adopt laws and policies to make sure Missourians get their fair share of federal tax dollars being reinvested in them.”
Stouffer said on Tuesday that Missouri is in good shape when it comes to transportation plans that are ready to go.
“We have done everything we can do to get ready,” Stouffer said.
Stouffer said the Missouri Department of Transportation has more than $500 million of projects ready to start now, including a project that would widen Highway 210 to four lanes from Ameristar Casino to Highway 291.
Stouffer said there has been a rush to get plans together because the indication from Congress has been they are willing to spend money on projects that are ready to begin in 90 days. He said getting a plan together also lets Missourians know what the state has planned for projects in the next five years.
“Sometimes when there is rush there is waste, and we’re doing our best to be sure whatever we get we will be able to spend in the most economically prudent manner,” he said. “It gives us a chance to let people see what we would do if we had enough money to do all of them.”
Stouffer said a second phase of spending is also planned for transportation if the federal government provides money. He said those projects would be more complex or have not been designed yet. To make projects expedite quicker, he said the state is on a design-build plan that allows the state to award contracts and then design them as they are built. He said about 20 percent of those projects are also ready to go.
Stouffer will again serve as vice-chairman of the Senate Agriculture Policy Committee and said the biggest focus right now is a right-to-farm bill. He said a growing trend of Missourians leaving the city for country life is causing some conflicts for farmers. He said some folks like the idea of country life but do not like some of the things that come with it, like gravel roads and animal smells.
“We have to be able to produce food and fiber here in the state,” he said. “When you move to the country, we’re going to have to have some tolerance of others.”
Stouffer said some farmers are finding themselves in courtrooms rather than in the field.
“We’ve got people being sued for following the law and it’s really hard to run a business when you’re having to defend yourself,” he said.