The 2016 legislative session kicked off Wednesday, and many issues have already made their way to the 98 th General Assembly.
Representative Kip Kendrick is our guest for “This Week.” I started our conversation by asking the Columbia Democrat the importance of improving our state highways.
This is a transcript of our conversation:
Rep. Kip Kendrick: It’s critical, and it should be a top priority of the House of Representatives. Three years ago we were at one 1.3 billion dollars in federal funding to fix road and infrastructure repair. By next year, it looks like we will be down close to 400 million dollars. We’re dangerously close to losing our federal matching funds, the federal highway funds, because we can’t meet our end of the bargain. Now, last year a two cent gas tax was proposed in order to bridge that gap and close that loophole. Now, the two cent gas tax was seen by some of my colleagues as too radical. Too many of my colleagues have unfortunately taken a pledge to never raise taxes. And this two cent gas tax, what it means is drawing down close to a half a billion dollars of federal funding a year to maintain our roads and bridges. Without this, what it means, MODOT has spelled out clearly, that it means 24,000 miles of roads will go without any repair and 6,000 bridges will go without any maintenance. We have to ask ourselves, “If we cannot meet our basic responsibility for maintaining infrastructure, how are we going to be able to recruit businesses to this state?” or maybe more importantly, “How are we going to be able to maintain the businesses we already have here currently?”
Joey Parker: Voters already said no to a sales tax about improving our roads, including the expansion of I-70. But a couple cents. Do you think two cents would be enough?
Rep. Kip Kendrick: Well no, so two cents isn’t enough. What was proposed last year would have been a two cents in 2016, two cents in 2017, and two cents again in 2018 in order to raise gas prices a total of six cents. Take us from what a dollar seventy-five today to a dollar eighty-one a gallon. But no, that’s just in order to plug the gap, to make sure we can continue to draw down the federal funding. There’s going to be much expansive need in order to even address the issues of I-70. We are going to have to need a much more comprehensive package. At that point, I think we need a comprehensive plan that can go to the vote of the people. Now there are going to be some discussion about diverting general revenue funds in order to fund MODOT. But, we’re really stretched thin right now in our state budget. Diverting general revenues to MODOT is just going to be cutting education funding even further. At a time when education funding for K-12 education; we are ranked 44th, 46th in the nation, higher education we are ranked 44th.
Joey Parker: So, you’re saying it’s worse than a Band-Aid because it’s taking money from other areas that need that money?
Rep. Kip Kendrick: That’s right. A modest two cent gas tax at a time. You cannot pit education against infrastructure. That’s not a winning cause. The two cent gas tax is very modest, it’s sensible and to me it’s a no-brainer.
Joey Parker: What about expanding Medicaid? This is an uphill battle because Republicans say “It’s not going to happen.” Democrats, and some Republicans, want to push forward with it. Any hope?
Rep. Kip Kendrick: Well- Any Hope? Um, no probably not in 2016. There has to be hope in the future for expanding Medicaid. You can make the strongest moral arguments for expanding healthcare access for 300,000 Missourians. But, more than that maybe, is the economic argument you can make for expanding Medicaid. It’s 2400 jobs probably here in Mid-Missouri alone, a 50 million dollar economic impact. And by expanding Medicaid, we can take individuals currently on the state Medicaid role, change them over to the federal expanded role, and actually save general revenue money, even at the ten year mark when the state is on the hook for ten percent of the cost of expanding Medicaid. So it’s- to me it’s a no-brainer, as well.
Joey Parker: What are your other priorities for the 2016 session?
Rep. Kip Kendrick: Well, I’m going to get back down there and push again for Telehealth. Expanding access to Telehealth throughout the state. You know, it’s critical to expand healthcare access in rural Missouri and Telehealth, video conferencing with medical specialists, is one of the best ways to do that. So, I’ll be back down there pushing for that again. I’ve also got a student loan refinancing bill. Student debt is becoming a huge issue nationwide.
Joey Parker: More than a trillion dollars.
Rep. Kip Kendrick: 1.3 trillion dollars and that’s quadrupled since the year 2000. The average student borrower has 26,000 dollars in student debt. We cannot let this current generation be burdened with such huge amounts of debts. It will be disastrous for the entire economy. We have to do everything we can in this state to improve their outcomes.
Joey Parker: Are you enjoying being a representative?
Rep. Kip Kendrick: I am. You know it’s a lot of fun. There’s a lot to learn all the time. It’s truly- I see it as a great honor to wake up every day and push projects that I truly believe in, like Telehealth and student loan refinancing, and to really push bringing companies here to Columbia. It really is- it’s a great opportunity.
Joey Parker: So you’re going to reapply?
Rep. Kip Kendrick: I will. Yeah, absolutely.
Joey Parker: Representative Kip Kendrick, thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.
Rep. Kip Kendrick: Thank you so much. Yeah, thank you very much.