Lawmakers push for a local vote on St. Louis City-County merger

   

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — As the St. Louis City and County merger debate wages on, lawmakers are scrambling to ensure those impacted would have more control over the government change.

State Rep. Dean Plocher’s HJR 54 would require two votes for a merger to happen: an initial statewide vote and another with just the city and counties impacted. The resolution passed out of the House General Laws Committee Monday afternoon.

State Rep. Dean Plocher

Plocher, a Republican, said the discussion regarding the potential merger and Better Together’s plan is an important discussion to have but wants to ensure those impacted by a change would have more control.

“To affect that plan and implement it, the voters of St. Louis City and St. Louis County must both individually acquiesce to such a merger because it directly affects us. It is directly dictating what kind of government we will live under,” Plocher told The Missouri Times. “We should be directly responsible for the government we live under and not let [just] the state of Missouri decide.”

State Rep. Bruce DeGroot, too, has expressed concerns with how a merger would be decided and supports legislation that would require that second vote — contending he doesn’t believe those constituents would vote for the merger.

“I think it’s fundamentally fair to have the people that are affected by it have the final say on whether or not they should be forced to join together,” DeGroot told The Missouri Times.

Instead of focusing on the merger, DeGroot said lawmakers should be fixated on the region’s financial issues.

“I think the St. Louis region has a lot of other problems that, in my opinion, are more pressing, like the roads and the bridges,” he said. “Currently the St. Louis region contributes $600 million to the [Missouri Department of Transportation] pot and we only get about $300 million of it back. We are yanking $300 million out of the St. Louis region every year … and it’s starting to have an effect.”

“I think it’s fundamentally fair to have the people that are affected by it have the final say on whether or not they should be forced to join together.”

“I suspect if we didn’t have the MDOT issue, if we didn’t have other funding mechanisms which are designed to yank wealth out of the St. Louis region and redistribute it to the rural areas of the state, we wouldn’t have to worry about Better Together,” DeGroot added. “I’d rather focus on those means of fixing the St. Louis problem.”

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a Democrat, has introduced a similar resolution in the Senate stating if a constitutional amendment changes the form of government for at least one county, that change could only go into effect if a majority of voters in each affected area votes in favor of the change.  

“This resolution is about ensuring the voices of St. Louis City and St. Louis County are heard loud and clear throughout the consolidation conversation,” Nasheed said in a statement. “If there is going to be a statewide vote on consolidating city and county governments, I want those residents to be the deciding factor. We cannot allow the state to impose its will on the City of St. Louis against our wishes.”

Those in favor of the merger — specifically Better Together’s proposal — argue for a constitutional amendment to create a new “metropolitan city” combining St. Louis City, County and all 88 county municipalities under a unified government.