It appears that Missouri's ports along the Mississippi River are a low priority for state lawmakers while the mid-state Amtrak service receives full funding next year. If you think that's unfair, you're not alone.
On Thursday, lawmakers in Jefferson City agreed to return the full $6.2 million in funding for the cash-strapped Amtrak service but cut the $470,000 port funding in half. That means that ports in our region of the state will have to exist with virtually no state funding. In fact, when the dust settles the dozen ports along the river will split about $20,000 in state funding. That, according to port officials, will mean most ports will be in a holding pattern and none will expand.
It's quite obvious that lawmakers don't fully understand the potential for port traffic in the movement of grain and other goods. And perhaps the port lobby is not as strong as the Amtrak lobby which connects Kansas City and St. Louis. But the massive gap in funding for these two services clearly illustrates how our section of the state is often ignored. It should not be that way.
Granted, the state is in a budget crunch and that means most state services will suffer some cutbacks. On a larger scale, that's not necessarily all bad. But here's the rub. The Missouri Senate had proposed to reduce Amtrak funding to $5 million but negotiators agreed on the higher $6.2 million offered by the House. Why not take those two proposals and meet in the middle? The remainder would mean full funding for the ports.
Missouri's ports are a success story. They are all busy and ready to expand. But without some limited state support, those prospects are dim. You most certainly can't say the same for Amtrak which has less than a perfect record of profitability in the past.
We'll remember the vote to cut the port funding. And those people in Southeast Missouri who depend on the port should remember this vote as well.
In fact, we'll remind you when the time is right.