October 18, 2007

U.S. Senator Bond Highlights Regional Issues During Meeting in Memphis

United States Senator Kit Bond was a long way from Washington D.C. when he stopped in Memphis October 10th, so it was fitting much of his speech at the Northeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission office was centered around transportation.

The former Missouri Governor, who is now in his fourth term in the US Senate, Bond helped celebrate the opening of the NEMORPC additional office space. Following the ribbon cutting, Bond gave an update to the corporations executive board on a number of legislative issues including the economy, health care, defense and transportation.

When I first started Missouri was a donor state, receiving just 76 cents of each dollar paid in taxes back for our roadways, Bond said. Over the years I talked about how bad it was to be a donor state, even as our return grew to 86 cents and then 92 cents.

All that changed when Bond was named the chairman of the subcommittee responsible for righting federal highway legislation, Bond was able to help bring Missouri full circle. In 2005 Missouri received $1.01 in federal highway funding for every $1 in taxes paid into the system.

I had to apologize, Bond said. I take all those bad things I said about being a donor state, Bond said jokingly to the gathering.

The senator noted that as a hub of highway transportation for the nation, Missouri needs the added federal funding.

The amount of traffic on our roads that doesnt originate in Missouri, puts a tremendous strain on the highway system, Bond said.

Highways werent the only transportation issue Bond discussed. The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) has been a hot topic in the nations capital.

For my constituents, this means jobs, trade competitiveness, reliable and affordable energy, drinking water, and protection from floods which ruin property and kill people, said Bond.

The WRDA would authorize the nations flood control, environmental restoration, and navigation projects. Missouri has nearly 1,000 miles of Missouri and Mississippi River frontage in addition to lakes. Bond pointed out that Missouri communities rely on these projects for affordable water transportation, flood protection, energy production, environmental protection, and recreation opportunities.

If our farmers dont have transportation, it makes no difference if we have expanded world markets in which to sell their products, he said. Rivers are our most economical and environmentally friendly options for transporting goods. One river barge is the equivalent of 870 truck loads.

The Congress-passed WRDA bill includes Bonds lock and dam provision. This provision authorizes $1.95 billion in federal funds for seven new locks and an additional $1.72 billion for environmental restoration. The lock modernization work is an important job initiative, creating 48 million man-hours of construction work. Also, replacing the aging locks is critical to farmers. Currently, sixty percent of all grain exports move through the locks. Modernization of the aging locks on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers the Midwests arteries to world markets will help farmers and shippers bring their products to market more efficiently.

This is a long-overdue investment in our infrastructure, jobs, trade competitiveness, and environmental protection, said Bond on the lock modernization provision.

Updating the lock and dam system will prepare the country for the projected growth in freight shipping, said Bond. Highway traffic growth is expected to grow from 11 billion tons to 19 billion tons and rail traffic from 2 billion to 3.7 billion tons. Also, Bond pointed out that river transportation is more cost, pollution and fuel-efficient. A single medium-sized barge tow carries the same freight as 870 trucks.

Bond emphasized that WRDA is bipartisan and has broad support. Despite the Presidents threat to veto the bill, Bond expressed confidence that a bipartisan Congress would ensure the WRDA bill becomes law.

If there is a veto, I look forward to overriding it swiftly on a bi-partisan basis, said Bond. I will be one of those leading the fight to override a veto of this legislation.

The cost of transportation was another topic of discussion. Bond addressed news of energy shortfalls and placed the blame for many of the problems on lawmakers.

He noted that the energy shortfall has been created in large part by legislation such as forcing electricity producers to use natural gas instead of coal.

Natural gas is one of our most valuable commodities, Bond said. I relate it to the analogy I heard that said it is sort of like taking your prized antique furniture and tossing it in the fireplace to warm your home, he said.

The Senator said the nation needs to develop more nuclear power, noting it is the most environmentally friendly energy source. Another need is advances in cleaner burning coal processes.

We (the United States) are the Saudi Arabia of coal, he said. We are sitting on top of something like 250 years worth of coal underneath our land.

While Bond felt positive that any presidential veto of the Water Resources Development Act would be overridden, he said the recently vetoed State Childrens Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) likely would not be revived by lawmakers.

The Senate passed the State Children Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) for needy children and pregnant women. Bond expressed his support for strengthening and extending SCHIP. Bond stressed that every American should have access to affordable health coverage. Congress should also provide families that are self employed or work for small businesses access to the same type of high quality health care that employees of unions and corporations currently enjoy through Association Health Plans.

Everyone needs healthcare, but we dont need the federal government to run the health care system, Bond said.

Instead Bond said he favored a tax credit system that would provide individuals $2,000 credits and families up to $4,500 off their taxes to provide their own health insurance.

While all of these issues are important to the senator, Bond said that national defense and related intelligence issues have taken up the bulk of his time recently.

Bond noted that misinformation in the national media was shaping public opinion on national defense issues. He pointed out that the new military strategy in Iraq is working.

He added that withdrawal from the region on a politically driven timetable would be disastrous, leaving the region in chaos and allowing the rich oil resources to be captured for use in funding terrorism.

Bonds son Sam, a 1st Lt. in the United States Marines, just recently returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq.

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