A bill containing a list of projects funded with federal stimulus dollars went down in flames on Thursday after a bipartisan group of lawmakers voted the measure down.
The package - which underwent an unusual legislative route to get to the floor so quickly - included a number of projects funded with federal stabilization dollars. In that mix include a $12 million allotment for St. Louis' METRO system, $111 million for a statewide interoperability system for law enforcement and $31.2 million for the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center in Columbia.
The legislation passed an initial vote in the House yesterday. But when it came up for another vote in order to be sent to the Missouri Senate, it failed 82-68.
A group of Republicans joined forces with a large number of Democratic lawmakers to sink the legislation. House Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs, for example, decried the bill as a vehicle for localized pet projects. Some Democrats - such as state Rep. Jason Kander, D-Kansas City - said it was better for the money to be saved for next year.
Rep. Rachel Storch, D-St. Louis - who voted for the bill - said it's "pretty late in the session
with a ticking clock" to pass some of the projects funded in the bill.
Storch successfully passed an amendment on the bill yesterday procuring funding for METRO.
"I guess if I had a crystal ball, I would say either that money is
going to lapse and we'll come back to it next year or we're headed
toward a special session," Storch said.
Budget Chairman Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, said some members of his caucus
had "heartburn" over some of the projects. There was a perception, he
said, that the list of projects were an example of needless spending.
"Going from the previous versions to this, I tried to focus on what I
consider critical projects for the state," Icet said. "I'd like to ask
the people who voted against it how will we find the money and pay for
a statewide [law enforcement communication system]? Because as I stand here, I do not
Pratt said Republicans became fed up about how the legislation
became an arena for local pork projects. He singled out the METRO
allocation as an example.
"The METRO bill may have killed the bill on its own," Pratt said. "I'm
not aware of any plan right now for the longtime sustainability of the
METRO. They were looking for an infusion of cash without any plan to
say they're not going to need the cash need year or the year after."
Hope you were in the mood today for a double dose of commentary.
My analysis this week looks into the stalling of Gov. Jay Nixon's agenda inside the GOP-controlled Missouri legislature. If Nixon wants his agenda items to succeed, he might have to start playing rougher with Republicans - including potentially threatening vetoes to provide some needed leverage.
The party without the majority often has a rough time getting its agenda implemented in the Missouri House. That's because Democrats and Republicans are often driven to vote the party line on almost every issue or motion. And without votes in committee or on the floor, the party out of power is often out of luck.
House Democrats, for instance, have been stymied in their question to bolster the state's Medicaid program and Missouri's SCHIP program. Both measures have the support of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who made restoration of the 2005 Medicaid cuts a singular issue in the 2005 governor's race.
But Nixon's power to veto bills could give Democrats in the House an extra boost. If Democrats got Nixon to publicly say, for instance, that he would veto a budget bill that doesn't contain an expansion to Medicaid, it could provide the House Democrats with more leverage to push their agenda.
I asked House Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Independence, whether his caucus wants Nixon to exercise the veto bill on budget legislation:
Attorney General Chris Koster received a polite applause before he spoke to a group of reporters and editors gathered by the Missouri Press Association. He quipped that the clapping might have been for his position on the journalist shield law, which he vehemently opposed for years.
"People know my position on the Shield Law, so the best news for this room is that I'm not in the Senate anymore," said Koster, who served as a lawmaker from Harrisonville for four years. "God, I hate that law."
When he was a legislator, Koster argued that the bond between journalist and a source was not a relationship judged to be more important than the court’s pursuit of the truth. The threat of a filibuster by Koster and Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, ensured the bill's perpetual doom.
Koster noted that his departure from the Senate made the bill's passage more likely. When he asked if anybody was carrying the bill this year, MPA executive director Doug Crews said "no."
"The first year that Bartle and I don't gang up on everybody and you don't have it down on the floor?" Koster said.
"We're taking a year off," Crews said, to some laughter.
Koster spent most of his speech talking about his transition into the attorney general's office. The first-term statewide official has had to deal with the exodus of many longtime staffers to Gov. Jay Nixon's administration. Koster has spent the past few months filling numerous positions, including plucking two sitting judges off the Western District Court of Appeals to work in his administration.