U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., says she’s a strong supporter of a multi-year federal highway bill, and she’s willing to go along with House Speaker John Boehner’s call to mesh any long-term transportation package with a broader look at federal tax policy.
McCaskill told St. Louis business leaders Friday that such a measure could provide state officials with more flexibility to direct the federal money to needed transportation projects.
But that said, McCaskill is concerned that all that work could be for nothing if Missouri officials don’t figure out a way to come up with the state’s matching funds, which would be required to collect the federal money.
Speaking to the St. Louis Regional Chamber, the senator observed, “Let’s assume, best case scenario, we get this highway bill done and it’s a six-year bill and then I come home to Missouri and we don’t have the Missouri money to match it, to pull down the federal funds.
“So we’ve got to get busy here in Missouri,” she said. “Jefferson City needs to get its act together about how we’re going to provide the match. We’ve always gotten more money from the federal government than we’ve paid in.”
Missouri officials and the business community have been grappling for some time over how to address the state’s growing problems with deteriorating highways and bridges, and the decline in revenue in the state’s gasoline tax.
Missouri’s gas tax is 17 cents a gallon, and among the nation’s lowest. The General Assembly debated – but did not pass -- a 2-cent-a-gallon increase last session.
Missouri voters rejected in 2014 a proposed sales-tax hike to raise money for transportation projects, primarily to improve Interstate 70.
McCaskill attracted chuckles when she quipped to the Chamber that Interstate 70 is in such poor shape that driving on it “feels like a demolition derby part of the time.”
During her 40-minute address, McCaskill touched on a number of topics. Among them:
She defended the decision by Senate Democrats to block action on appropriations bills to press Republican leaders to address their objections to “sequestration,’’ which imposes strict limits on domestic and military spending.
McCaskill contended that the nation is at risk unless some changes are made in sequestration. She blasted the GOP for misleading the public by allocating $40 million in an off-budget “overseas continguency fund,’’ that has been used to pay for military actions, such as the war in Iraq.
Congress instead needs to put more money into domestic programs, she said, singling out needed spending for the CIA, the FBI, border patrol, cybersecurity and the Department of Homeland Security.
Democrats are waging their fight this summer, she said, in hopes of resolving the dispute before the federal fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
She objected to the temporary defunding of the federal Import-Export Bank, saying the institution is necessary to help lend money to U.S. businesses seeking to do business abroad.
McCaskill said the shutdown – sought by GOP conservatives – has hurt many Missouri businesses.
“I don’t get it,’’ she said. “Every major (competing country) around the world has something like this.”
She blasted Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for his announced plans to filibuster a reauthorization bill, set to come before the Senate next week.
She predicted that the Missouri part of the St. Louis area has a strong shot at retaining the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which is currently in St. Louis. The agency plans to relocate because it needs more space. It is considering one site in north St. Louis, two proposed locations in St. Louis County and a site in Illinois near Scott Air Force Base.
McCaskill described a bipartisan effort in Missouri to retain the NGA. She quipped that she is “joined at the hip’’ with fellow Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., in their common quest to retain the NGA.