Senator Mike Cunningham

Two weeks ago, the governor came before a joint session of the House and Senate to lay out his legislative and budget priorities for the coming year. I’ve had time to look over some of the governor’s ideas and would like to share my thoughts on a couple of them.

One of the big questions on everyone’s mind was how the governor planned to pay for highway maintenance and road projects. Missouri hasn’t raised its fuel tax in more than 20 years. During that time, we’ve watched gas prices bounce up and down, but the fuel tax has stayed the same – 17 cents on every gallon we buy.

We tried to do something about highway funding with Proposition D, which was on the ballot in November. Voters were asked to step up and pay 10 cents more on every gallon of gas. The people said no. The roads and bridges still need repairs, though.

Now, the governor wants to borrow $350 million dollars to pay for repairs to 250 bridges across the state. The money will come from the sale of bonds. His plan frees up existing money in the highway fund so MoDOT can tackle other projects.

It’s not a bad idea. Missouri is one of only 10 states in the nation with a AAA bond rating. The folks on Wall Street understand that we’re a conservative state. We don’t borrow money for frivolous things, and we pay our bills. Our good reputation means we should be able to secure financing at favorable rates.

I don’t necessarily like the idea of borrowing money for something we should pay for at the pump, but I don’t see any other choice. I think the governor has the right idea.

Another one of the governor’s ideas that makes a lot of sense is his decision to close the Crossroads Correctional Facility in Cameron. This maximum-security prison can house 1,400 inmates. It is located adjacent to another prison, the Western Missouri Correctional Facility, which holds about 2,000 prisoners.

Crossroads was the site of a six-hour-long prisoner riot back in May 2018. The subsequent lock-down lasted for four months. Tensions inside the prison were blamed, at least in part, on staffing shortages which resulted in decreased recreational time and reduced programs that keep inmates occupied.

You’ve got to respect corrections officers. They do a tough, thankless job. They’re also not paid very well. In fact, Missouri pays its prison employees less than any other state in America.

The governor wants to mothball Crossroads and move inmates next door to Western Missouri. The consolidation should save the state about $20 million. The timing is good. Prison populations in Missouri have decreased in recent years, and both Cameron facilities have been operating under capacity.

The savings will go directly to Missouri’s underpaid corrections officers. Beyond the 3 percent raise the governor has requested for all state employees, corrections workers would receive an additional increase based on their years of service – a 1 percent raise for every two years on the job. That means a 20-year corrections officer would receive a 13 percent raise. It costs money to retain good employees, but doing so makes sense in the long run. I support the governor’s idea.

There’s a lot more to look at in the governor’s budget proposals. I hope to discuss more of his ideas in the coming weeks.

As always, I appreciate it when groups from around Missouri and from our community back home come to visit me at the Capitol. If you would like to arrange a time to come and visit me in Jefferson City, or if you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.