JEFFERSON CITY - The House Budget Committee directed state highway funds from the state treasurer's office and Natural Resources Department to the Transportation Department in a vote late Monday night.
Currently, the treasurer's office uses this money, which comes from sources including the state fuel tax and license fees, to fund almost 25 percent of its entire budget for staff salaries and benefits.
Deputy State Treasurer Chuck Miller said it is difficult to determine how much staff time is spent on MODOT's needs. Because MODOT accounts for less than 25 percent of the total state budget, the treasurer's office likely spends less than 25 percent of its time on the department, Miller said.
The treasurer's office serves MODOT's banking and investment needs and is constitutionally obligated to continue doing that work even if its salary budget is cut, he said.
Miller told the committee the office has been wanting to phase out the $456,000 in highway money and replace it with general revenue funds for years. In its action Monday night, the committee did not direct general revenue funds to the office.
This would force the office to cut 25 percent of its staff and hurt the office's ability to do its jobs, Miller said.
"You no longer can perform your constitutional and statutorial obligations," he said.
Regardless of whether the treasurer's office receives the money, it must do investing and banking for MODOT to meet its constitutional obligations, he said.
The treasurer's office received general revenue money for this portion of its budget until the 1980s when budget cuts caused the general revenue funds to be replaced by highway money.
The percentage of highway funds that the Natural Resources Department currently receives to formulate environmental impact statements for highway projects would go directly to MODOT under the vote. MODOT would then hire employees or contract with outside agencies -- possibly the Natural Resources Department -- to prepare the statements.
Rep. Brian Yates, R-Jackson County, proposed the funds transfer. He said it would improve accountability for the money. Yates cited the fuel tax increase that was defeated on last August's ballot. He said he attributes its defeat at least partly to Missourians not having assurances the fuel tax money is used for state roads.
"Voters have lost trust to how we spend highway fund dollars in our state," he said.