Recent Missouri Editorials
The Kansas City Star, Dec. 27
A ‘no brainer’: Why wouldn’t Missouri accept donation for 144-mile hike and bike trail?
Whoever came up with the phrase, “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” surely was thinking of something akin to the offer that Missouri officials are now weighing.
The state and Gov. Mike Parson have until Feb. 21 to decide whether to accept a 144-mile stretch of the old Rock Island rail line running south of Interstate 70. The hiking and biking trail, when completed, would mesh with the nearby Katy Trail to create an unmatched recreational opportunity that would showcase Missouri’s mid-state beauty.
In fact, Missouri would emerge as “the national leader in trail-oriented outdoor recreation,” a study by the University of Missouri Extension concluded. The Katy Trail already ranks as the nation’s longest.
One author of the study that was completed in October for a group advocating for the acquisition said researchers struggled to find any reason to reject the proposal.
“We had a hard time coming to any kind of conclusions other than this is kind of a no-brainer,” Pat Curry, who co-authored the report, told the Jefferson City News Tribune.
Another advocacy group, the Washington-based Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, calls the proposed donation “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
A no-brainer, indeed. The study reported on the overwhelming support for the idea based on comments filed with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The trail fits the state’s outdoor recreation plan; it’s an exceptional economic development opportunity; and the state already has experience developing rail corridors, thanks to the work done completing the much-loved Katy Trail.
What’s more, the report noted, the price is right. To complete the Katy Trail, the state had to purchase much of the land. With the Rock Island, Ameren is willing to donate the property, saving the state millions.
Former Gov. Jay Nixon, an avid outdoorsman, deserves credit for kick-starting this project. He joined with Ameren two years ago to announce the pending transfer of the Rock Island line. The administration of former Gov. Eric Greitens slowed things down shortly after he was elected with a call to study the project’s potential costs and benefits.
Meantime, advocacy groups, such as the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, went to work, advocating for the state to accept Ameren’s offer. According to the extension report, only the Missouri Farm Bureau remains opposed, citing the potential disruption to nearby farms.
State officials are concerned that the cost of developing the new trail would siphon away money for maintenance of the state’s existing parks. Last year, officials estimated the cost of completing the trail at $65 million to $85 million. But Greg Harris, executive director of Missouri Rock Island Trail Inc., has said that the state could begin with a minimal investment, then work with towns along the corridor to gradually develop the trail over any number of years.
“There’s no rush to do any significant development or development at all,” Harris said. “The most important thing is just accepting it.”
Officials maintain that even then, the state would incur significant costs just to keep the trail monitored and safe.
Still, this remains an extraordinary opportunity, and Missouri would be foolhardy to walk away from such an incredible asset. The state already is operating on a year-long extension to consider the donation. It could seek another extension as well.
But, to coin a phrase, why look a gift horse in the mouth?
The Joplin Globe, Dec. 30
Our View: Tread lightly on petition process
In 1994, Missourians used their initiative petition right to impose on lawmakers — by a margin of 74 percent to 26 percent — campaign contribution limits.
And for a little more than a decade the state maintained those limits. They were ultimately undone by Missouri politicians, and the result was a foreseeable flood of mega donations swamping Jefferson City, warping the political process.
Despite the obvious need for contribution limits, and despite it being the overwhelming will of the people of Missouri, lawmakers year after year refused to revisit the issue. Campaign contribution limits, as well as lobbying restrictions and other ethics reforms, are just a preoccupation of the media, lawmakers would tell us, and not something the people of Missouri really wanted.
But in 2016 limits were once again proposed, this time via a petition calling for a constitutional amendment, and the result was equally lopsided — supported by a vote of 70 percent to 30 percent. Last fall, voters tightened some of those screws even further with another petition amending the state constitution.
In other words, Missourians unambiguously supported campaign contribution limits and lobbying reforms, and they needed a tool to impose their will on recalcitrant lawmakers. The initiative petition was that tool.
We bring this up to remind lawmakers of the importance of the initiative petition — something there is a lot of talk about reforming this year. Gov. Mike Parson says reforms are needed; the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry also has identified reforms as a priority. We support efforts to streamline the process and cut costs, but let’s go slow — real slow.
Qualifying a proposed statute for the ballot is already a high bar — supporters must gather signatures equal to 5 percent of the votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election in two-thirds of the state’s eight congressional districts. For proposed constitutional amendments, that threshold is 8 percent.
Hundreds of petitions get launched each year — 371 were filed for the 2018 ballot. Many are withdrawn or rejected because they don’t meet the requirements, and ultimately only a handful survive to make it to the polls. Already, though, more than two dozen petitions have been filed since the November 2018 election.
The fact that the secretary of state also has to summarize in 100 words legal documents that run into dozens and dozens of pages also makes lawsuits inevitable. We also have no doubt that some of these petitions are frivolous, and the result can be a time consuming and expensive task. We can surely come up with a more efficient and effective process.
We worry, however, that some reforms could make it harder — unintentionally or otherwise — for what is supposed to be a grassroots tool for Missourians to petition their government for change. We also fear that in reforming the process, lawmakers will work to give themselves some sort of final say, or final check, and perhaps even the ability to repeal the very thing voters want.
We urge lawmakers and elected leaders to tread carefully.
Our right to petition our government for change — to bypass the General Assembly and the signature of the governor — is a basic and fundamental right of Missourians, and it must be guaranteed.