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Metro funding in jeopardy with new federal stimulus plan

By Rachel Lippmann, KWMU

St. Louis, MO – A new plan for federal stimulus money from Republican leaders in the state House would eliminate funding for St. Louis's mass transit agency.

House Speaker Ron Richard and budget chairman Allen Icet announced their new plan on Thursday, saying the proposed rebate is better for the economy than funding projects in individual member districts. Earlier this month, Richard and Icet had thrown their support behind a plan to provide Metro with about 20 million dollars to reverse some service cuts.

The change shocked Metro officials, including President Bob Baer.

"The state was and is our last, best hope," he said. "As we view the stimulus act it speaks to employment, and our customers use the bus, our vans, our trains to get to their jobs."

A spokeswoman for Richard said the Republican caucus developed the new plan by consensus, and the Metro funding was never guaranteed. The new proposal would use about $1 billion to fund a cut in the income tax rate. Icet said he plans to put at least $400 million into reserve, and fund specific projects with the remaining funds.

The service cuts Metro was hoping to reverse are generating a flood of complaints. The agency has received nearly 700 comments since March 30, almost all of them negative.

Most of the complaints are about crowding on buses, and buses not showing up on time, said Metro chief operating officer Ray Friem. Some of the problems, he said, are unavoidable.

"When you're in a half-hour headway, or time between bus, and a bus breaks down or gets into an accident, it's a full hour between buses. It's not that the bus wasn't dispatched," he said.

The agency was averaging 6 complaints per 100,000 riders - Friem expects that to be higher when ridership numbers are released

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