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Highway funding still top of mind in Missouri

By |  October 29, 2019
Headshot: Morgan Mundell_MLPA

Mundell

Morgan Mundell has a lot on his mind these days.

Guiding the Missouri Limestone Producers Association (MLPA) as executive manager, Mundell is tasked with handling fundamental association responsibilities such as reviewing bylaws and growing the association. But he is also currently addressing more pressing issues affecting the aggregate industry within the state of Missouri.

Missouri’s dire highway funding situation, one that’s been in decline over the course of the last decade, tops MLPA’s list of priorities. MLPA is also currently fighting a unique battle on the aggregate specification front, and, like several state associations, it’s developing a program to effectively bring up the next generation of industry talent.

The aggregate industry within the Show Me State undoubtedly has a lot going on at the moment. Mundell sat down with Pit & Quarry this summer to offer an exclusive look at the challenges and opportunities within Missouri, which is one of the nation’s highest-production aggregate states.

Priority number one

Missouri’s state gas tax has not increased in 23 years, but Missouri Limestone Producers Association leaders remain optimistic about the highway funding opportunity with the Missouri General Assembly over the next couple of years. Photo: iStock.com/benkrut

Missouri’s state gas tax has not increased in 23 years, but Missouri Limestone Producers Association leaders remain optimistic about the highway funding opportunity with the Missouri General Assembly over the next couple of years. Photo: iStock.com/benkrut

Unfortunately, properly funding roads and bridges remains a severe hurdle for aggregate producers in Missouri.

Missouri has not raised its gas tax since 1996, and it ranks nearly 30 percent below the national average with a state tax of 17 cents per gallon. Additionally, Missouri’s combined local, state and federal gas tax totals 35.82 cents, making Alaska the only state with a lower combined gas tax total.

All of this is happening in a state in which the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gives a D+ grade for its roads and a C- grade for its bridges. The state’s infrastructure as a whole gets a C- grade from ASCE.

Consider, too, that Missouri ranks sixth in the nation in total road miles, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Having such poor grades and figures, as well as having such a vast transportation infrastructure system to maintain, builds a compelling case for Missouri to do something about its crumbling infrastructure. But Missouri voters, in their last opportunity to enact funding change, defeated a measure that would have incrementally increased the state gas tax from 17 cents to 27 cents per gallon.

Proposition D, which voters rejected last November, was indeed a missed opportunity for Missouri aggregate producers. But Mundell believes the public vote is at least trending in the right direction.

“It was much closer than it was three years ago,” says Mundell, who joined MLPA in 2017 after a stint as CFO at the Missouri State Senate.

According to Mundell, the challenges with Proposition D were many. For starters, he says Proposition D was a late addition to the November ballot and that proponents were not afforded enough time to properly build a campaign around the issue.

“You get to the end of the legislative session at the end of May, and all of the groups in the state were going, ‘We’ve got five months to do a statewide campaign,’” Mundell says. “We had June, July, August, September and October to get a campaign going, and we didn’t have the staff hired until the middle of June.

“What was amazing was that in that timeframe they raised around $5 million,” Mundell adds. “A lot of people chipped in.”

The language within the bill was also an issue, according to Mundell.

“They started talking about law enforcement and how it was going to help pay for the Missouri Highway Patrol and help pay for bridges,” he says. “People just got mad about it. They said it was a switcheroo, that they thought they were voting on roads and bridges and now they find out it’s about law enforcement.”

Short-term solution

Missouri ranks sixth in the nation in total road miles, but it has the second-lowest combined local, state and federal gas tax at 35.82 cents. Photo: iStock.com/holgs

Missouri ranks sixth in the nation in total road miles, but it has the second-lowest combined local, state and federal gas tax at 35.82 cents. Photo: iStock.com/holgs

Although Proposition D failed, Missouri lawmakers passed a short-term measure earlier this year to direct $301 million in bonds to repair bridges in disrepair across the state.

Mundell describes the plan as a bold one by Republican Gov. Mike Parson.

“Missouri is an anti-tax state,” Mundell says. “You have a governor in place for four to six months, and one of the first things he does is support an increase for infrastructure funding. I think he did a lot of good for the state.”

Still, Mundell characterizes the bond measure as a “shot in the arm” and not the long-term solution to Missouri’s highway funding woes. Unfortunately, next year is probably too soon to expect a long-term measure to be passed in Missouri.

“We’re going to have a statewide election next year, and I don’t see that happening,” Mundell says.

The opportunity to raise Missouri’s gas tax may finally come in 2021. In the meantime, producers who long ago counted on Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) funding will have to continue to do business as usual.

Building relationships

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Until Missouri develops a long-term highway funding solution, Missouri producers will continue to build in-roads with state legislators in anticipation of an opportunity.

One organization within the state that’s had a very active lobby in Jefferson City is the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, which, according to Mundell, tends to send 15 to 20 different people to the Capitol every week.

The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association illustrates the value of assembling a strong lobby and being consistently visible to legislators, he adds.

Also, because legislators tend to change more frequently at the state level, Mundell suggests it’s even more vital for Missouri producers to make the time and foster champions for their causes at the state level.

“I’m not necessarily looking at the current legislative session,” Mundell says. “I’m looking four legislative sessions away to lay the ground.”

With that approach, Mundell advises his members to engage freshmen legislators who need an issue to take up and make a mark.

“I want to engage that freshman House member and educate him on the industry, so in four or six years, when they become a committee chair, they get it,” Mundell says.

Staying connected

At MLPA, the legislative process will be part of the education producers get when they participate in a new leadership program the association plans to launch early next year.

The MoRocks Leadership Academy, which MLPA revealed to members at a 2019 business meeting, aims to foster opportunities for rising stars within aggregate-producing companies. The Kentucky Crushed Stone Association (KCSA), which launched a similar program two years ago in its Emerging Leaders, provided MLPA with a template on which its own program could be structured and customized.

Like the KCSA program, MLPA seeks to connect the next generation of aggregate producers across Missouri.

“We’re going to do some fun stuff, including tours,” Mundell says. “We’re going to educate them on the industry. We want to build a team of people in the industry who can support each other.”

Relationships will be as critical to the next generation of industry leaders as they are to the current set.

“I had been at MLPA for six months when I attended a June board meeting,” Mundell says. “I walked into the parking lot, and three of my board members are there. Each one had their workplace exam rule sheet laid out on the back of a pickup truck.

“Three different companies, and they were all comparing notes,” he adds. “That’s the value of an association.”

Easing a spec headache

The American Society of Civil Engineers gives Missouri a C- for its bridges. Fortunately, the state agreed this year to a bond measure that will fund $301 million in repairs for more than 200 bridges across Missouri. Photo: iStock.com/tupungato

The American Society of Civil Engineers gives Missouri a C- for its bridges. Fortunately, the state agreed this year to a bond measure that will fund $301 million in repairs for more than 200 bridges across Missouri. Photo: iStock.com/tupungato

Knowing the right people was key this year in Missouri producers mitigating material specification challenges posed by the Eastern Missouri Pavement Consortium (EMPC).

MoDOT, of course, has its aggregate specifications. Recently, however, a band of municipalities joined forces and developed their own set of standards.

“Oftentimes, these are more strict than the state level,” Mundell says. “It has caused some real problems.”

According to Mundell, EMPC developed its own standards after several municipalities had pavement crack two to three years after it was laid down.

Those bad experiences prompted the municipalities to crack down. The group even required costly construction materials tests every year – tests MoDOT does not even require.

“There was kind of a knee-jerk reaction,” Mundell says. “They were like, ‘We’ll get seven or eight municipalities together and hire a high-end consultant who will tell us what we need to be doing. They got way too strict too fast.”

Groups like the Missouri/Kansas Chapter of the American Concrete Paving Association got involved to ease the pain of construction material producers.

“Even MoDOT has been talking to some of these regional groups and saying, ‘Hey, you guys are a little more strict than you need to be here,’” Mundell says.

Fortunately, the industry in Missouri has made some progress in easing producers’ pain on this issue.

“I think it’s turning back,” Mundell says. “They realized they’ve gone a little too far on it.”


Did you know?

The state of Missouri employs more than 2,500 people in the crushed stone industry with a combined annual payroll of more than $70 million. Millions of tons of crushed stone is produced each year in the state – about 10 tons for each of Missouri’s citizens.

Source: MLPA


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