JEFFERSON CITY - The $644 million statewide stadium and economic development bill was significantly weakened by its opponents, but still managed to pass the Senate on first-round approval late Thursday night after 17 hours of debate.
The bill's sponsor, Senate President pro tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, described the bill as economic development for the entire state.
"This is my vision for one Missouri," he said.
But opponents decried the bill as pork-barrel spending at its finest, arguing that the state had more important priorities than ballparks.
"It seems to me one of the worst things we can do as a state is spend taxpayers' money on subsidies for businesses that don't need it," said Sen. Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis County.
The bill faced nearly 40 amendments, many of which passed with relatively little opposition Thursday.
Under the bill, the state would pay over $20 million a year toward stadiums and developments. Construction of a new baseball stadium in St. Louis would cost the state $7 million a year for 30 years.
Most of the attention focused on the St. Louis part of the bill, and the city and the Cardinals baseball team seemed to run the show. Senators including Kinder, the Senate's leader, frequently left the Senate chamber to discuss their votes with lobbyists for the city and the team.
The bill would also put $9.8 million per year toward rehabilitation of baseball and football stadiums as well as money toward a bistate arts district. It would also contribute to the building of convention centers in Springfield and Branson and allow the Savvis Center arena in St. Louis to get up to $3 million a year.
Sen. Larry Rohrbach, R-California, succeeded in getting a major part of the bill taken out. The section known as the Local Economic Opportunities Act would have divided some tax revenues into separate accounts that would have gone to different regions in the state.
Kinder said that part of the bill was added as an attempt to get greater support from outstate legislators like Rohrbach.
"We designed the local economic opportunities fund as a means by which outstate Missouri would participate," Kinder said. "It was an attempt truly to knit the state together."
But Rohrbach led the charge against that provision.
"This bill creates funding we can't get out of and it eats up our revenues," he said. "I don't like telling my school teachers, `You're last on my list (of priorities).'"
Amendments that would have brought the issue to a vote of the people were defeated.
Kinder said it would be irresponsible to send the bill to the people before the full Senate knew what was in it.
The bill must go to a Senate budget control committee and then pass a final vote before the full Senate. After that, it would move to the House.
House Speaker Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, said he would not stop the bill from coming to a vote. However, he did say the bill is low on his list of priorities after education, social services and transportation. All of that must happen before legislative session ends May 17.