JEFFERSON CITY – The real news at the Capitol on Wednesday wasn’t on the House floor – it was in the basement.
That’s where the transportation commission dished out $94.6 million worth of projects paid for by a new constitutional amendment.
The big winners: two contributors to the campaign pushing the amendment and another fresh off an acquittal on federal bid-rigging charges.
Hours later, new Transportation Director Pete Rahn rose before the General Assembly and delivered the annual State of Transportation address.
He touted Amendment 3, a constitutional change approved by voters Nov. 2 of last year. By routing more money to roads, Amendment 3 paved the way for Wednesday’s new contracts.
Chester Bross Construction Co./C.B. Equipment Inc. took home the biggest prize. The Hannibal contractor won $28.6 million in Amendment 3 money. On Nov. 11, more than a week after the amendment had passed, Bross donated $5,000 to a campaign committee organized to support the amendment.
Fred Weber of Maryland Heights, received contracts for $17.9 million. On Nov. 23, Weber made a $25,000 donation to the Amendment 3 committee. Campaign finance records show another donation of $7,500 made in the company’s name on Aug. 12.
“That’s exactly what we predicted would happen during the campaign,” said Pat Martin, the former chair of No to Amendment 3. “We weren’t able to reach the voters before election day.”
A spokesman for the transportation department said campaign contributions had no effect on contracts.
“We have a very objective process,” spokesman Jeff Briggs said. “At the time our commission makes a decision to approve projects, whether they contribute to campaigns we are not aware.”
The constitutional change known as Amendment 3 phased out the use of money raised by gas and car taxes to pay for services unrelated to transportation. In the past much of the money paid for social services. Now all the money raised by transportation taxes goes straight to the Department of Transportation.
The main force behind the drive to pass Amendment 3 was the Committee to Improve Missouri Roads and Bridges. The committee was steered by members of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and fueled by a $1.6 million war chest of contributions. The bulk of the money raised by the committee came from companies and organizations connected to road building.
Martin said voters were deceived by a campaign that sold Amendment 3 as a government reform to keep taxes down.
“We are experiencing the prospects of drastic cuts in health care for the poorest, most vulnerable Missourians,” said Martin, referring to Gov. Matt Blunt’s proposed Medicaid cuts. “Amendment 3 is partly responsible for that.”
Columbia contractor APAC-Missouri, Inc. finished second in Amendment 3 contracts. The company won 10 projects totaling $22.7 million.
APAC and its vice president, Donald Mantle, were indicted in August 2004 on charges of rigging road construction bids. They were acquitted by a jury in October.
Federal prosecutors alleged that APAC offered another company a kickback subcontract in return for elevating their bid on a larger highway project.
During the trial they were prohibited from bidding on government jobs.
“When they came back and said they were acquitted we put them back as a contractor in good standing,” Briggs said.
Bross, APAC and Weber were the three biggest recipients of Amendment 3 contracts. Six other companies were awarded contracts totaling more than $25.3 million. Two of the six made contributions to the Amendment 3 fund, according to campaign finance records.
Herzog Contracting Corp., of St. Joseph, received more than $5.1 million in contracts. On Aug. 12, they made a $2,500 contribution to the committee.
Pace Construction Company of St. Louis won nearly $1.7 million in contracts. On May 7, they made a $7,500 contribution to the fund.