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Pork-barrel spending doesn't work like it used to

April 19, 2002
By: Robert Sandler
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB1889; SB1279; HB1107

Sponsor: Rep. Jim Foley, D-St. Louis County; Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, Rep. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County
Description: stadiums; stadiums; budget
Current Status: approved by House committee, approved by Senate committee, under consideration in Senate Appropriations Committee
Next Step: awaiting House approval, awaiting Senate approval, awaiting Senate committee approval

JEFFERSON CITY - The time-honored tradition of pork-barrel spending seems not to be working like it used to -- at least for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.

In an effort to get votes from outside of the St. Louis area, supporters of the plan for state funding to help build a new baseball stadium have added into the bill state funding for projects across the state -- including Kansas City, Springfield and Branson.

Yet, some of the lawmakers from those areas still are not buying in.

The plan originally would have sent money to the Cardinals to help them build a new downtown stadium. But then Kansas City decided it didn't want to be left out of state stadium spending, so its major sports teams jumped in.

Kansas City now wants the state to put money into rehabbing the two stadiums at the Truman Sports Complex, home of the baseball Royals and football Chiefs, as well as other area cultural attractions.

But even when the proposal changed to allow the state's two major population centers to get state money, it still didn't have enough votes to pass the legislature.

So Senate President pro tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, put together a bill that put in money to build convention centers in Springfield and Branson, hoping to get more votes.

That has left the legislature with a "Christmas tree bill," according to Rep. Mark Wright, R-Springfield, who opposes the bill.

"Give a little to everybody, and then you'll get their votes," Wright said. "They know that's how it works."

For the Springfield and Branson projects, the state would give back half of the new revenues from the development areas in those cities. Total state contribution would be capped at $18 million to the Springfield project and $32 million to Branson, each spread over a period of 23 years.

However, it hasn't been working out as well as the plan's supporters had hoped.

Backers of the bill were having a hard enough time getting votes from St. Louis and Kansas City lawmakers. Leaders of both the supporting and opposing factions come from the St. Louis area.

So now that Springfield and Branson would get state money for major construction projects, lawmakers from those cities will support the plan, right?

Wrong.

Nearly every representative and senator from Springfield and Branson, Republicans and Democrats, had the same message: they would not support the plan in its current form.

But most of those members noted the difference between the plans for St. Louis and Kansas City and the plans for Springfield and Branson.

Rep. Brad Roark, R-Springfield, drew the line.

"They are existing businesses with revenue they can reinvest into their business," Roark said of the sports teams. "The Springfield and Branson ones are not -- we are trying to attract economic growth."

With lawmakers unsure if they can support bringing money home to the district, what does this say about legislators' minds this year?

One senior lawmaker suggests it's term limits that's causing pork to have less of an effect.

"Term limits has done just the opposite (of what we feared)," said Hosmer, D-Springfield. "More members (of the House) are feeling a greater responsibility to their constituents."

Sen. Roseann Bentley, R-Springfield, said the stadium issue can be summed up the same as the rest of the issues this session.

"There's lots of pressure and the tension is flowing."

With the Springfield and Branson delegations leaning against the massive proposal, lawmakers found another way to secure money for those cities.

In the process of writing next year's state budget, both the House and the Senate Appropriations Committee have inserted a "placeholder" appropriation to three projects: a redevelopment project in Kansas City, and the Springfield and Branson convention centers. Each of those projects will receive $1,000, as the budget looks right now.

It's called a placeholder because it establishes a commitment by the legislature for substantive funding sometime in the future -- just not this year.

Rep. Judy Berkstresser, R-Crane, said about 92 percent of her constituents didn't want her to support the Cardinals' stadium even if it included money for Branson, which is in her district.

"I'm very secure that my project is going to get funded without having to vote against the will of my people."

So where does all this leave the Cardinals' stadium?

Rep. Jim Foley, D-St. Louis County, is a major supporter of the St. Louis stadium. The bill is facing a difficult ride in the House, and Foley said he's been dealing with skeptics all along.

"People told me it wouldn't go anywhere because of term limits, and then they said it wouldn't get out of committee. But it has come out of committee -- by an impressive (12 to 6) vote -- so we're not far off."