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Kinder cautiously optimistic about Metro's chances for state funding

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 5, 2009 - Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder was buoyant Tuesday about the resurrection of the House bill that contains funding for a number of state projects, including $12 million for Metro, the region's troubled transit system.

Kinder, a Republican, said he had talked to dozens of House members ever since they first rejected the bill Thursday, but he said he was still amazed by Monday's shift in which the House members overwhelmingly passed the spending bill.

He called it one of the most stunning reversals he'd seen during his 17 years as an office-holder in Jefferson City.

Kinder presides over the Senate and, as a state senator, used to be the president pro tem. He told reporters at a news conference Tuesday in St. Louis that chances were "50-50" that the Senate would approve the bill.

He continued to fault Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat -- blaming him for Thursday's initial reaction because Nixon had opposed the spending bill's total amount. Nixon said he had nothing against Metro, and underscored in an interview Tuesday night that he supported "stop-gap funding'' for the agency.

Kinder said it was clear from last week's vote -- when 50 Democrats voted against the measure -- that his accusations that Nixon was personally lobbying against the bill were correct.

Kinder added that he thought it was an usual state of affairs when a Democrat who carried the St. Louis area heavily last fall had opposed spending that local Democrats and Republicans dearly wanted.

Nixon declined comment Tuesday night saying, "I'm trying to make things happen, and not be a commentator."

Meanwhile, Kinder contrasted his own personal lobbying for the bill, noting that he had failed to carry the St. Louis region in last fall's election. "I'm fighting for this Metro money because it's the right thing to do,'' Kinder added.

Metro chief Bob Baer, a prominent Republican, drove to Jefferson City Tuesday morning and is now lobbying senators on behalf of the bill.

Metro Commissioner Hugh Scott of St. Louis County said that the $12 million in state money would restore about one-third of Metro's service cuts and bring about one-third of Metro's laid-off employees back to work.

Metro's financial troubles stem largely from county voters' rejection of a half-cent sales tax increase on the November ballot. That tax hike would have produced an additional $80 million a year for the transit agency, Scott said.

Metro plans to put the proposed county sales tax increase back on the April ballot. If county voters pass it this time, it would trigger a quarter-cent increase that voters in the city of St. Louis voters approved years ago.

The $12 million represents the most the state has ever given Metro, said Scott and Kinder. Both said the money would particularly help the region's disabled and low-income workers who depend on Metro to get to work. Kinder maintains that if the Metro service cuts remain, it would wind up costing the state more in unemployment benefits.

Kinder's cautious optimism about the Senate was based in part on an observation made years ago by former state Sen. Danny Staples, D-Eminence.

Kinder said that Staples always said, "If you were going to die, you should do it on the floor of the Missouri Senate. There are more resurrections there, said Staples, than anywhere else."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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