Jefferson City gives Metro hope that some routes could be restored
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 15, 2009 - At the urging of Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, leaders of the Republican-led Legislature indicated Wednesday that they are willing to give $20 million in federal stimulus money to Metro.
Metro Chief Executive Bob Baer said in a conference call with those officials that such a sum would allow the public transportation agency to restore a "very significant" chunk of the cuts in bus, light rail and Call-A-Ride service that went into effect two weeks ago.
Baer called the aid - which still must be OKed by the Legislature - the agency's "last, best hope" for an infusion of money.
Metro has been hit hard by a $50 million budget shortfall and voters rejection last November of an increase in the transit sales tax.
State Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood and head of the House Budget Committee, emphasized that the $20 million would be given on a "one-time basis" to help Metro revamp its operations so that it is operating within its financial means by next year.
Icet's far West County district is among several in the region where the suburban campuses of major corporations have been hard-hit by the cuts, because a large chunk of their service employees no longer have transportation from their homes in lower income areas in the city of St. Louis or closer-in suburbs.
Icet cited the economic impact, on the region and the state, if the cuts remained in effect.
Kinder called Metro's predicament "desperate" because of the impact on its riders who have no other options for transportation. "Those who use the services of Metro are at greatest risk of losing their jobs," the lieutenant governor said.
Icet said the $20 million is contained in House Bill 20, which was introduced Tuesday. An initial committee vote could be taken as soon as next Monday, he said.
Baer acknowledged that the $20 million won't allow Metro to restore all of the cuts, but he said it could allow the restoration of nine routes - including the express routes from the city of St. Louis to far west St. Louis County and routes in downtown St. Louis.
Many Call-A-Ride services, used by the elderly and the disabled, also could be restored, Baer said.
Baer said that Metro also is appealing a rejection by the federal Department of Transportation of the agency's request that it be allowed to use $12 million in federal money now allocated for other Metro uses. Federal transportation officials say the money can't be used to maintain existing services. Metro also has been seeking federal money from other sources - so far unsuccessfully.
Wednesday's announcement marked the first sign that legislative leaders in Jefferson City, many of whom come from rural parts of the state, were paying attention to Metro's plight.
Kinder said a lot of credit goes to Baer, a prominent Republican, who personally approached many of those lawmakers. "I cannot overstate" Baer's role, Kinder said.
Kinder added that Icet and other Republican legislative leaders, notably House Speaker Ron Richards of Joplin, also "deserved the lion's share of credit."
Whether such support will be enough to get the $20 million through the state House and Senate is unclear, especially since both are dominated by rural interests who until now have not been sympathetic to urban concerns like the Metro cuts.
Kinder, who hails from Cape Girardeau, also has been doing a lot of lobbying on Metro's behalf. Kinder long has been on amiable terms with many corporate leaders in the St. Louis area, who in turn have helped bankroll his political campaigns.
Lines most likely to benefit
99 Downtown Shuttle
54 St. Luke’s Hospital Ballas
55 St. Anthony’s Hospital I-55
44 Wildwood Shrewsbury
48 South Lindbergh
89 Airport Chesterfield
75 Florissant Clayton
39 Affton Catalan Loop
Call-a-Ride will also improve along these routes
-Information provided by Metro