Missouri lawmakers pass budget with $2.8 billion plan to expand I-70 across the state

Missouri lawmakers on Friday approved a roughly $50 billion budget for the next fiscal year that funds a massive expansion of Interstate 70 across nearly the entire state from Blue Springs to Wentzville near St. Louis.

The $2.8 billion plan would extend the highway that connects the state’s two largest cities from two lanes each way to three to curtail traffic jams and congestion. It’s substantially more ambitious than Gov. Mike Parson’s $859 million proposal earlier this year to extend the highway in three specific spots near Kansas City, Columbia and St. Louis.

“This is probably a six, maybe seven-year-long project,” said state Sen. Lincoln Hough, a Springfield Republican who chaired the budget committee in the Senate. “So, maybe I should apologize up front for the traffic, but I think the end result is going to be something that, quite frankly, generationally will transform that artery across the state.”

The entire spending plan headed to Parson’s desk comes as the state is flush with cash, propped up by a record $5 billion surplus. It includes several key items including $3.6 billion in state aid to K-12 schools and $78 million to boost rates for child care providers. It also includes several one-time costs such as $300 million to build a new psychiatric hospital in Kansas City.

The state’s fiscal year begins July 1.

Lawmakers, with little discussion, also agreed to strip two culture war-focused provisions passed by the House that had threatened to derail the budget process. The budget approved Friday rejected Republican-backed plans to cut funding from every state agency associated with diversity initiatives.

It also restores $4.5 million in state aid for libraries that the House had cut in retaliation for a lawsuit on behalf of two library groups challenging a new state law that bans certain materials in school libraries.

“I mean, yeah, I’m relieved they weren’t insane,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, an Independence Democrat, said Friday. “This session, over and over, it’s been like the war on acronyms.”

The state budget also for the third year in a row blocks Medicaid patients from accessing care at Planned Parenthood. Friday’s approval comes less than a year after a Cole County judge ruled that lawmakers could not use budget bills to limit the list of eligible Medicaid providers.

The Missouri Supreme Court found in 2020 that lawmakers violated the state constitution when they attempted to end all funding of Planned Parenthood.

“In a state that consistently ranks among the worst for health care access, coupled with a high uninsured population, you would think conservative politicians would expand access to life-saving preventative care,” said Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes.

Hough rejected this criticism Friday, telling reporters that the language in the budget “doesn’t really have, in my opinion, a lot of practical implications.”

Lawmakers were able to approve Friday’s budget ahead of a 6 p.m. constitutional deadline, avoiding a filibuster over legislation aimed at killing a landfill proposed in Kansas City. A fight over the landfill legislation had blocked Senate action for nearly all of Thursday’s session and threatened to upend the budget process.

State Sen. Rick Brattin, a Harrisonville Republican, ultimately agreed to end his filibuster over the legislation after negotiations among senators and phone calls between Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and Senate leadership.

After Brattin’s filibuster, senators, in a last-minute addition, added $100,000 for an environmental study near the proposed site to study the impacts of a landfill on nearby schools, homes and the environment. Lucas also said on Twitter that he would be filing a city ordinance that would ban the approval of landfills in the city through next June.

“We’re extremely pleased with Mayor Lucas,” Brattin told reporters. “What we were able to get...was an environmental study for one year and it will be a moratorium of any permits issued to anyone to try to put in a landfill while this study goes on.”

Parson and lawmakers have framed the I-70 expansion as necessary to combat high levels of congestion on the major highway that slices through the state. However, researchers have disputed the idea that highway expansions are a long-lasting solution.

While the Missouri House had approved the governor’s proposal, Hough pushed for a full expansion of the highway.

The final $2.8 billion plan would fund half of the project through general revenue and half through bonds that would be repaid over 15 years.

“We are pleased with the efforts to make transformative, generational investments in infrastructure here in MO,” said Tom Crawford, president and CEO of the Missouri Trucking Association. “We have been advocating for these investments for decades and are pleased to see progress made in this budget.”