Metrolink Financing May Stall Crucial Bills Face Legislative Battle

Article excerpt

The Missouri Legislature has taken its mid-term break, a weeklong vacation that gives lawmakers time to plot courses for their bills during the last half of the legislative session.

Bills identified by leaders as top priorities - campaign reform, anti-crime measures and welfare reform - have advanced to a point that final passage appears possible before adjournment on May 13.

But two issues considered crucial to the St. Louis area may be in trouble: Tougher auto emission inspections and financing for MetroLink.

By this midway point in the General Assembly's session, it is best that a bill have made it through either the House or the Senate to have a chance of final passage. That leaves the second half of the session to get a bill through the other house.

But the auto emissions inspections and mass transit funding are hung up in the state Senate and still face full scrutiny in the House. The auto emissions inspection measure, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Goode, D-Normandy, still needs first-round and then final approval in the Senate.

The Senate has given first-round approval to a local-option sales tax plan to fund MetroLink. But the bill, sponsored by Sen. John Scott, D-St. Louis, is bogged down in the Senate Budget Committee. And it still needs final Senate passage before going to the House.

House Speaker Bob Griffin, D-Cameron, said last week that if the Senate passes both bills, he will act to accelerate the movement of both through the House.

"They will be put together as one bill to get the necessary support for both," Griffin said in an interview last week. "Different people want different bills. You bring the people who want each of the proposals together and that creates enough support for both."

The fate of the clean-air bill and rapid-transit funding are crucial to the St. Louis area.

Federal officials have threatened to cut off hundreds of millions of highway construction dollars and halt industrial growth in the St. Louis area unless air pollution is reduced. The tougher auto emission inspections, which the Legislature must approve, is one way the state can respond.

But there is opposition. For example, Sen. Danny Staples, D-Eminence, represents a district that includes southern Jefferson County.

"I have 20,000 people who are adamantly against it," Staples said. "The threat of highway funding money is always there when Big Brother wants something."

The future of MetroLink hangs on Scott's bill. The light-rail service is operating with borrowed money, a $10 million loan from the Missouri Highway Department. …