(AP) – More than $7 million in funds meant to fix Missouri’s ailing highways instead went to excessive paid leave for employees and other expenses even as the Department of Transportation has said a funding shortfall will prevent proper maintenance of roads and bridges, according to a state audit released Thursday.
Just weeks ago, Director Dave Nichols said the department will take up no new major projects following a steep decline in the state’s construction budget for roads and bridges – from $1.3 billion annually in 2009 to $685 million this year, and is expected to drop to $325 million in the fiscal year 2017 budget.
The state constitution limits money from the road fund, which in part comes from Missouri’s 17-cent fuel tax and is to be used only to improve highways and bridges.
Bu the audit noted roughly $7 million in money from the road fund was improperly used in fiscal years 2013 and 2014: about $3.8 million went to safety grants to local entities and almost $1.9 million to settle employee discrimination lawsuits.
“It’s improper,” Deputy Auditor Harry Otto said. “And it violates the strict interpretation of the constitution.”
Transportation officials in a response in the audit said using those funds for safety education and other programs was within the rights of the department, although they plan to look for other funding sources.