CLAYTON — A change to an Illinois state law signed Monday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker will give St. Clair County one more seat on the Bi-State Development board than St. Louis County — even though St. Clair County contributes about one-third of what St. Louis County pays for the system.
That is causing angst in the office of St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, who said in an interview on Tuesday, and later in remarks to the County Council, that the situation was unreasonable.
Page recently questioned Bi-State’s $164.3 million budget request, saying the county was being asked to take on a larger share of the funding for Bi-State at a time when the operator of the Metro transit agency is cutting back service in the county. Members of the County Council have expressed concerns about security on the system, after a high-profile rash of crimes and a report from a consultant that called for better coordination between Metro and police in St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Clair County.
Page said the new board makeup “fundamentally changes the balance of power between St. Louis County and Illinois. We provide 47% of the funding (and) we have two or sometimes three votes on the board. St. Clair County is going to have four and they provide 17% of the funding.”
But he said he did not know of a potential remedy. “When you have a mismatch between financial contributions and the ability to participate in the governance, that mismatch becomes a bigger deal when you have unresolved public safety issues.”
In comments to the County Council on Tuesday, Page criticized St. Clair County for seeking to expand its control over Bi-State without having a “public conversation” about the effect. St. Clair County will now have veto power over how $160 million in St. Louis County taxes are spent, he said.
“That’s not what St. Louis County voters agreed to,” he said. “It’s not what we signed up for.”
He said the county is willing to help bring down crime throughout the MetroLink system, but needed Bi-State to “lead the way. ... If Bi-State won’t do it, then the rest of the region should be ready to.”
Bi-State is an interstate compact formed by an act of Congress signed by President Harry S. Truman in 1950. Its board is made up of 10 commissioners, five from Missouri and five from Illinois. Two of the Missouri members represent St. Louis and two represent St. Louis County for five-year terms. The fifth alternates between the city and county and is named for a three-year term. (This time around, the county has three members.) For each city or county position, the Missouri governor appoints someone from a panel of three nominees submitted by the mayor or county executive.
Before the change in Illinois, St. Clair County and Madison County alternated each year on an appointment for a five-year term — despite the fact that Madison County operates its own transit system and does not contribute tax money to Bi-State. Under the new law, St. Clair County will have four seats; Madison County will fill the fifth seat.
Pritzker said in a statement that he “signed legislation to ensure local governments that contract with the agency and pay for the agency’s services have a voice in its direction.”
St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern said the legislation fixed an injustice.
“We spend $60 million with Bi-State, and Madison County spends nothing,” he said. “So to better represent the taxpayers, it’s important that we have those seats on the board.”
Asked about concerns in St. Louis County, Kern said Page should discuss them with the Bi-State board and CEO Taulby Roach. “The Bi-State board has been all ears, catering to the needs of all sides,” he said.
Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler said the action was a “political power grab” from his county, but had no thoughts on St. Louis County’s claims.
Prenzler said the two commissioners from his county have tried to bring transparency to Bi-State. A week ago, he alleged the board didn’t have the votes in November to hire Roach when it voted in closed session. Bi-State has refused to release the minutes from the vote.
Page said “irregularities” in hiring Roach were “disappointing and it doesn’t inspire confidence,” but said he liked Roach and thought he was “a good person trying to do the right thing as he sees it.”
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said she did not share Page’s alarm over the change in how Illinois selects its representatives on Bi-State.
“I tend to think that’s Illinois’ business,” she said. “I think there is still 10 votes on the board and I expect Bi-State board members to use their best judgment regardless of who they are appointed by. I don’t call my appointees on Bi-State and tell them how to vote.”