You’re Not Fooling Me

4 08 2012

Your Blogmeister’s Desk

I understand that some politicians running for State House seats in the city and certain inner suburbs of St. Louis County are sending mailers telling you that they want to use their power in Jefferson City to spend more for infrastructure in those given districts.

This is why I get paid the big bucks (unless I don’t), to expose bullshit like this.

Legislation passed by the Missouri General Assembly must be uniform throughout the state.  It can’t specifically single out a given area.  Therefore, earmarks are legally impossible in Missouri state legislative process.  It is possible to circumvent that by attaching a population provision to legislation, but that only opens a Pandora’s Box.  Some provisions of amendments to the state Constitution apply or don’t apply to cities or counties larger than or smaller than a certain population size or cities or counties within a certain population range, and those are sops to one particular place.  For instance, Amendment 1 in 2010, which passed at the ballot box, forces Missouri counties with charter forms of government to have elected real estate assessors, unless the charter county has a population between 600,001 and 699,999.  Translated into English, this means that Jackson County applied enough pressure to the state legislature that they exempted Jackson County from having an elected assessor, and they did so by exempting charter counties with a population somewhere in the six hundred thousands on the ballot language.  Jackson County will probably have a six figure population beginning with the number six for a very long time to come.

The way infrastructure spending in Missouri works is that MoDOT gets various funding from various sources, mostly from state tax revenue, but also from various Federal sources, and sometimes local or county governments.  With current and future budget projections in mind, MoDOT has a “program,” usually a five-year advance plan, of projects that it can fund.  Not only budgetary concerns, but MoDOT must also prioritize projects on the program based on need, utility, usefulness, and other factors.  For instance, if the Blanchette Bridges totally collapse and fail tomorrow, then their replacements will go to the front of the program.  Converting a heavily traveled two-lane highway between significant cities to four lane will be higher on the program than repaving a letter route in the middle of nowhere.

Sometimes, a local subsidy will mean that MoDOT can move a project up in the program, and a Federal grant or earmark will do the same to a particular project.  For instance, the Page Avenue Extension — St. Charles County gave MoDOT funding to construct the South Outer Road for the future Phase 3 of the PAE (Route and future Interstate 364) in central St. Charles County sooner than MoDOT could have done it by itself, even though the actual and far more expensive freeway lanes are still a few years away (see below).  The Federal ARRA had earmarks in it to finish Phases 2 and 3 of the PAE, (thank you Todd Akin), so MoDOT moved them up in the program, and in fact, Phase 2 will be opened by the end of this month, Phase 3 by the end of 2014.  As an aside, this was what was meant by the term “shovel ready” when ARRA was being debated — The infrastructure spending allowed State DOTs to move various already approved (“Record of Decision”) projects ahead in their programs.  ARRA wasn’t necessarily the difference between Phases 2 and 3 of the PAE getting built and not getting built at all, it just made it happen sooner.  Ditto for all the other road projects ARRA funded.  The economic impact I think will be negligible.

The point is, infrastructure spending in Missouri is mostly divorced from electoral politics.  Remember that when politicians send you mail during election season.

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