Post-Dispatch Calls for LaHood, Feds to Get Tough on Missouri Mass Transit Funding

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I admit to not seeing this editorial when it was published and apparently no one else saw it either. There’s a total of one reader comment, one affirming response. A recent story on a Hummer dealer fighting declining sales by selling guns has 95 comments and a prison guard caught kissing an inmate? 77 comments.

But back to something that actually affects thousands upon thousands (if not millions) of Missourians. Our state fails to fund mass transit while Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina and Illinois to take a few contribute 20 percent or more to major city mass transit systems in their respective states. Missouri? Less than 1 percent. Now the state’s largest newspaper is advocating that the federal government employ a little leverage – from the Post-Dispatch:

St. Louis is in the depths of a public-transit crisis with no certain relief in sight. Will the U.S. Department of Transportation — keeper of the federal transit coin — take notice? In a meeting last week, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Post-Dispatch editors and reporters that he is on the case.

(Taxpayers) have been shouldering their load for decades, picking up the slack for the state, which chronically defaults on its mass-transit responsibilities.

In fact, Missouri contributed less than 1 percent of Metro’s more than $200 million in operating expenses in 2008. When crisis hit and bus lines were being taken out of service, lawmakers and Gov. Jay Nixon came up with a one-time $12 million contribution; it helped restore some service, but it is only a short-term fix.
Missouri didn’t even use its own money; it spent federal stimulus funds.

Mr. LaHood noted that Congress enacted and President Barack Obama signed a law earlier this year that permits transit agencies to use up to 10 percent of federal appropriations to pay for operations — a marked shift in a policy that long restricted such funds for capital expenditures.

“This idea that you allow transit districts to buy all kinds of new buses and you don’t have the money to pay the bus drivers is silly,” Mr. LaHood said.

Missouri receives millions of dollars in federal transportation dollars each year. If the state is undermining its cities’ transit systems through neglect, the feds can encourage the state to provide more support by talking to them, Mr. LaHood said. “They come to us for money and we have an obligation, if they are short-circuiting or shortchanging certain parts of the state, to talk to them about that,” he said.

Maybe a call from Mr. LaHood, around check-writing time, is what it will take to get Missouri political leaders interested in public transit.

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