Nov. 28, 2001

Ron McLinden joined with representatives of the Missouri League of Women Voters and the Coalition for the Environment in writing an op-ed on Governor Holden's recent decision not to issue an executive order on smart growth. The order would have created a task force on "growth and investment." News of the pending order had sparked strong opposition from suburban jurisdictions, especially in St. Charles County. The op-ed was published in the Kansas City Star on November 28, and has been submitted to other newspapers as well.


FEAR THREATENS PUBLIC DISCUSSION OF GROWTH ISSUES

By Ron McLinden, Ted Heisel, and Elaine Blodgett

Recent criticism from some local officials has led Governor Holden to withdraw a proposal to review state policies on growth and investment. Was this a victory for those wanting to silence debate on how Missouri grows and the impact of growth on the economy and environment? We hope not. Missouri needs to get on with the kind of dialogue that other states are already having about how to grow while holding down costs and ensuring a high quality of life for everyone.

The Governor’s plan was to establish a task force to consider whether Missouri is spending taxpayer money wisely when locating new state buildings and building highways. The task force would also have developed recommendations to help localities better deal with growth. There were no growth boundaries in the Governor's plan, and no new state-mandated planning regulations. Just a thoughtful review of state policies.

Apparently some viewed such a review as threatening.

We need to get beyond the current gridlock. Missouri needs an extensive and inclusive discussion about public policies and private expectations regarding growth. Citizens and public officials alike need to determine the facts and then decide whether continuing down the current path makes sense. Much existing evidence suggests we may need to change course.

A prime example is transportation. MoDOT says it needs more than $1 billion in new revenue each year to meet demands on our transportation system. Much of that money would be spent on freeways. Meanwhile, urban transit agencies are having to cut service, in part because lower population densities and dispersal of jobs have made bus service more costly to provide. The combined impact on taxpayers is enormous, and low-wage transit-dependent workers may be left in the cold.

The General Assembly has thus far failed to ask the voters to increase taxes for transportation. They thereby appear to acknowledge that there are limits to what the state can afford. One must conclude that we can no longer expect the state to build highways fast enough to catch up with new development. Thus, public and private expectations regarding growth need to be re-examined in this light.

This is no time to bury our heads in the sand, no time to turn away from leadership. We urge Governor Holden, and all citizens who are concerned about the mounting costs of current growth patterns, to find a suitable way to begin a public discussion of the issues. Having that discussion -- and then acting on its conclusions -- is crucial to Missouri's future.

-Ron McLinden of Kansas City chairs the Missouri transportation committee of the Sierra Club;
-Ted Heisel is law and policy coordinator for the Coalition for the Environment in St. Louis;
-Elaine Blodgett of Columbia is director for land use and taxes of the Missouri League of Women Voters.