When we talk about issues important to promoting continued economic growth in our state there is little doubt that our transportation infrastructure is one of our most vital components. Having well-maintained roads and bridges is extremely important for commerce, as well as for the day-to-day travel we all find necessary. But even though most Missourians would agree our system of transportation is extremely important, it has been a difficult challenge to find the money necessary to fund the needed maintenance and improvements.
Consider that just a few years ago our transportation department had approximately $1.3 billion to spend on transportation projects and that number has now dropped by more than $600 million and is set to fall by another $360 million by 2017.
The high water mark for funding was the product of a bond issuance as well as an uptick in federal funding. With those revenue sources now greatly diminished, it has become obvious that our state transportation department is on the verge of a true funding crisis. It’s a crisis that could lead to many road projects being ignored and only the most basic maintenance being performed.
Rather than divert money from other state services, my colleagues and I in the legislature opted to give voters the opportunity to decide how we should move forward with funding for transportation. The constitutional amendment we approved, and that now requires voter approval, would generate more than $530 million annually for our state’s many important transportation projects. The money would be generated by increasing the state sales tax by three quarters of a cent beginning in 2015 and would stay in effect for a period of 10 years. Of the funds produced from the tax, 90 percent would go to state projects and 10 percent would go to cities and counties for their transportation projects.
Again, the important thing to keep in mind on this issue is that you will have the opportunity to decide if paying more in sales tax is the right path to avert the funding crisis our transportation department is about to face. This proposed change to the Missouri Constitution will appear on the November ballot this year. It will be up to all of us to decide if this is the right option for Missouri to maintain and improve its transportation in the years to come.
• Another bill passed in the final days of the session is a strongly pro-life measure meant to protect the lives of the unborn. The bill we approved would require a woman to take additional time to consider her decision before obtaining an abortion. Currently, Missouri requires a 24-hour waiting period between the time a woman seeks her first consultation and exam from a physician and the time she returns to undergo an abortion procedure. The legislation we passed would lengthen the waiting period to 72 hours, which will give the woman additional time to consider her decision and consult with those close to her.
This is a bill I support because I believe it gives a potential mother some additional time to think about this life-altering decision and to talk to family and friends who can help provide support during what is undoubtedly a difficult and emotional time. When we engage in discussions on the floor about pro-life legislation, opponents inevitably claim it will infringe on the rights of woman. Our goal with this bill is not to reduce the potential mother’s rights, but to balance her rights with those of the unborn child. We are not denying the mother her rights, but simply asking her to give more thought before making a decision that she may later regret.
This bill is now headed to the governor’s desk for his consideration. Already he has indicated he may veto the bill. If he does, we have bipartisan super majorities in both chambers that would be likely to override his veto.
• In the final days of session we also approved a measure that would give Missourians the opportunity to approve an early voting period before each election. As we have seen voter turnout rates continue to be less than ideal, discussions have turned to ways to make it easier for people to vote. While our state does allow voters to cast absentee ballots in certain cases, such as when they will be out of town on the day of election, we do not currently have a no-excuse voting period.
If approved by voters, the proposed constitutional amendment would establish an early voting period of six days leading up to the Wednesday before the election. The period would not include Saturday or Sunday. The amendment would allow no-excuse absentee voting during that period of time, and in-person early voting would take place during the regular business hours of the local election authority.
The goal with this change is to provide voters with additional opportunities to vote but also to do it in a way that does not drive up costs for our local election authorities. Now Missouri voters will have the opportunity to decide if this is the right change for our state when they go to the ballot in November of this year.