Chief Justice Laura Denvir Stith delivered the 35th State of the Judiciary address. While many topics were discussed one area stands out. She defended the non-partisan court plan, but did allow that changes in the process are being considered. First, more transparency is needed in the selection process for judges. The Supreme Court will begin by making more information available to the public and the media about the judicial candidates in a timely fashion. Commissions will be required to announce the time, date, and location of their meetings and to provide demographic information about the applicant pool prior to those meetings.
Second, Chief Justice Stith declared, “We want citizens to have ready information about the performance of their judges so they can make fully informed decisions when they exercise their right to vote”. This is a very positive change. Retention votes for judges are the most difficult votes to cast, due to the extreme lack of information and sources for information about the judges. She noted:
The Supreme Court also is requiring the creation of judicial performance committees to use objective standards to conduct in-depth evaluations of nonpartisan judges seeking retention. These performance committees, composed of an equal number of lay persons and lawyers, will release their evaluation summaries and will recommend whether a nonpartisan judge should be retained. The bottom line recommendations, and directions to a Web site with detailed evaluation information, will be made available in a concise voter information pamphlet - the type of pamphlet we hope one day to be able to send to all the voters.
These are positive changes for the courts and the courts would not have taken these steps and announce these intentions without the feedback and interest received by the public.
Oddly enough the Chief Justice noted that the $395 million of in damages, offsets, fines, fees, and costs are considered a “positive economic impact” and further stated that “we courts do our share in contributing to the state's bottom line”. Apparently I missed that in the constitution. The assessment of damages, offsets, fines, fees, and costs, while justified by law and necessary to punish offenders, is really a form of wealth redistribution. To have a positive economic impact both parties would to benefit in the transaction.
Director Pete Rahn delivered the fifth, and final, State of Transportation address. This address was required by statute in 2003 in response the lack of credibility MODOT was experiencing with the public and the General Assembly. Director Rahn noted, “The road to credibility is a long one. The road to discredit is not. Credibility takes a long time to build, but it can be torn down in a matter of seconds” – very true words indeed.
MODOT has made significant improvements over the past few years and has racked up a number of successes. The success or failure to deliver the Smooth Roads Initiative and the Safe and Sound Bridge program will be MODOT’s legacy for this decade. Here are some “success” highlights from the address:
In 2006, we delivered 2,200 miles of smoother, safer roads a full year ahead of schedule. We are now building on that success with our Better Roads, Brighter Future initiative which will result in 5,600 miles of major roads with smooth pavement; brighter, wider striping; larger signs; rumble stripes; and, in most cases, a minimum four-foot paved shoulder all by 2012.
With just one year of Better Roads, Brighter Future completed, 78 percent of our
major roads are now in good condition as compared to 44 percent just five years ago. That is progress that benefits all of us. That is an example of how far we've come.
Missouri climbed from 39th to 17th between 2000 and 2005 including an eleven-spot jump from 2004 to 2005 - the second biggest improvement in the country. And that was prior to the full effects of the Smooth Roads Initiative or any of the positive improvements through Better Roads, Brighter Future, which will undoubtedly move us up the rankings in future years.
Construction contracts awarded in Fiscal Year 2007 came in 7.4 percent under budget. That was a 90 million dollar savings - 90 million dollars more for road and bridge improvements. For Fiscal Year 2008, so far we are at 114 million dollars or 14 percent under budget.
Additionally, all projects in our five-year plan that were sped up due to Amendment 3 funding have been awarded to a contractor. With 100 percent of these projects under contract, we came in at 4 percent under budget. That is even more savings for even more highway improvements. That is an example of how far we've come!
MODOT in recent years has moved beyond their old “patch and promise” reputation to making significant improvements to our ailing infrastructure and reduced the number of fatalities on Missouri highways. While MODOT has certainly made significant improvements, it will continue to take a diligent public to hold their feet to the fire. Their performance has raised our expectations on what we can expect.