State voters must give approval for St. Louis to get home rule

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

By Marc Powers ~ Southeast Missourian

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- As statewide ballot measures go, Amendment 1 -- home rule for St. Louis city -- is uncharacteristically parochial.

Whereas most proposed changes to the state constitution would impact all Missourians, approval of Amendment 1 on Nov. 5 would affect only residents of St. Louis city, and then only maybe.

As a result, the key question for the 94 percent of Missourians who don't live within the city limits is why should they care about Amendment 1?

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, called the measure a "needed reform" that simply would provide St. Louisans with the same level of control of their local government enjoyed by the residents of other Missouri cities.

"I don't know what they have to fear about it," Kinder said. "Since they don't have a dog in this fight, I would hope they vote 'yes.'"

Under constitutional provisions that date to Civil War and Reconstruction eras, St. Louis is the only Missouri city that isn't part of a county. Because of its unique status, its local government has both municipal and county functions.

While St. Louis voters can make changes to the city's municipal functions by amending the city charter, its county duties are governed by the Missouri Constitution. As a result, some local decisions must be made by the General Assembly.

Amendment 1 would allow St. Louisans, if they later choose, to bring those county functions under the governance of the city charter. The change would cost the state nothing and could potentially save the city money through the elimination of duplicative offices.

Wide support

The proposal enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support in the legislature, which voted in 2001 to place it on the ballot.

State Rep. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said Amendment 1 would allow more St. Louis-specific issues to be handled locally instead of in Jefferson City.

"I can't tell you how many times we have debated what was more or less an ordinance change for the city," Crowell said.

One such debate this year centered on local taxes for weed abatement. In Cape Girardeau, Crowell noted, such an issue would be handled by the city council -- not lawmakers from all parts of the state.

"I believe the best government is government that can down to the grass roots, to the people at the local level," Crowell said.

State Rep. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said Southeast Missouri residents wouldn't tolerate local decisions being made at the state level.

"Why shouldn't the city of St. Louis have the right to determine how their government functions?" Mayer said. "I think we all want to have a part in what goes on in local communities. I don't think rural Missourians would want it any other way."

If St. Louisans had greater control over local affairs, Mayer said state lawmakers could spend more time on issues of statewide importance.

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