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Talk of Tolls for I-70, Right-to-Work Legislation Heat Up

Business and political leaders are already looking toward next year. Expect to hear plenty of talk about turning I-70 into a tollway and making Missouri a right-to-work state.

While many of us are consumed with pre-Thanksgiving planning, business and political leaders in Missouri are busy making their wish lists for the next legislative session in January.

For starters, if the head of the Missouri Department of Transportation gets his wish, we may need to pay a toll in the future to get to grandma's house to eat our Thanksgiving turkey, if our route includes driving on Interstate 70.

MoDOT Director Kevin Keith told the Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight on Wednesday that the highway department is spending about half of what is needed on the state's transportation infrastructure.

Federal stimulus funding boosted construction spending across Missouri in 2009 and 2010. Amendment 3, passed by voters in 2004, previously allowed the department to borrow money with bonds to finance new projects.

Funds peaked at $1.2 billion in fiscal 2009 and are estimated to drop to $590 million in 2016.

Keith said a public-private partnership may be the only way MoDOT could make corridor-wide improvements to I-70 without the need for a tax increase. Putting the operation of I-70 into the hands of the private sector would then free millions of dollars for other projects across the state.

This plan, however, would need state legislative authority to move forward.

Workforce issues move to forefront

Lawmakers are also expected to grapple with labor policy issues next year. In preperation, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry released its legislative priorities Tuesday.

Among the priorities is making Missouri the 23rd right-to-work state. Daniel Mehan, president of the state's largest employer advocacy group, said the issue is often framed as business vs. labor.

"Frankly, it is an issue between labor and employees," Mehan said in a statement.

The Missouri Chamber also plans to push to eliminate project labor agreements and the prevailing wage laws in Missouri regarding public projects. Plus, the group wants workers' compensation reform and legislation to prevent frivolous discrimination lawsuits, among several other issues.

Economic development, employment and exports

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon needs to find a new director for the Missouri Department of Economic Development. Nixon announced Tuesday that David Kerr will step down at the end of the year.

The governor said his administration will work quickly to find his third MDED director.

On the same day, Nixon touted the state's unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent in October, down by two-tenths of a point from September. The U.S. unemployment rate for October was 9 percent.

Nixon unveiled more good economic news for the state Thursday during a stop in St. Joseph, announcing that exports from Missouri are up 12 percent this quarter over this time last year.

By Brian R. Hookbrhook@brhook.com, (314) 482-7944

Hook is editor of Missouri Journal, which covers the economy across the Show-Me State. For more Missouri news, sign up for a newsletter and follow Missouri Journal on Twitter and Facebook.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Don November 24, 2011 at 04:42 AM
Missouri's gasoline tax is 6th from the bottom - don't expect good roads without paying for them. The stimulus bill helped repair several hundred bridges in Missouri alone but there are so many that need work, it was only a start. I'm absolutely opposed to toll roads and can't understand how letting a private corporation make money by selling them our highways could possibly benefit Missourians. Selling our highways or any other public property to private interests defies logic. The right to work legislation will guarantee Missouri workers the right to work for less and less while the 1% laugh all the way to the bank.

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