Missouri legislators approved $50 million in funding – beyond additional money for bridges – to create the Governor’s Transportation Cost-Share Program, which leans toward helping wealthier communities while shrugging off poor communities.
Touted by some as a “cost-share program that represents an effort to build partnerships between the state and local communities,” the program gets down to this simple issue: Those who have money have a good chance to get more and those that do not have not.
Under the plan, a community that has at least some money to fix roads and bridges can apply to the state for matching funds to help pay for the cost of the work.
A little town with little money that has horrific street problems, a plethora of leaky water lines, a bridge that needs replacing, a water tower that has long ago surpassed life expectancy and so on will not be able to match funds like richer neighbors can.
The cost-share program will match the local investment in infrastructure by up to 50 percent of construction contract costs.
But wait, there’s more.
If a targeted investment can generate “additional economic development,” then the program can use set-aside funds to provide up to 100 percent of the project’s construction contract costs.
“This program offers an exciting opportunity for Missouri to advance both transportation and economic development,” Gov. Mike Parson said. “We commend our legislators for supporting this economic development tool that will turn infrastructure investments into Missouri workforce investments.”
The upside of the program is undeniable. Some cities will be able to improve their infrastructure. Some cities will be able to generate temporary construction jobs. Some cities will be able to spend improvement money with local vendors. These are wonderful outcomes.
But the program is not fair.
The cities most likely to attain matching funds are those with money. Other cities – perhaps Wood Heights, where community residents are at odds because aldermen disbanded the police force due to a lack of funds to also cover infrastructure and administrative costs – are not likely candidates to come up with a 50 percent match to address priority needs.
A better approach for the state to take, as opposed to setting aside matching money, is to distribute funds based on the greatest need. Tax dollars should not be doled out – as this program is set to do – on a basis that comes close to the concept of helping the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.