Nixon nowhere to be found on transit bailout issue, letter writer says

To the editor:

I am not sure what Robert Baer had in his drinking water when he thanked Gov. Jay Nixon for his support of the $12 million appropriation Metro would get from the state of Missouri, but from what I have read and heard, Gov. Nixon was nowhere to be found on the transit bailout issue.

The online Daily RFT reported, “Last month Nixon’s silence prompted state Rep. Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) to send him a letter accusing him of ‘ignoring the plights of blacks in the City of St. Louis.”’

And KWMU reported that Rep. Ted Hoskins, D-Berkeley, stated, “The governor should take a position. The high vote he received in the metropolitan area of St. Louis and St. Louis County should demonstrate to him that he cannot be silent on this issue.”

As for me, a transit rider who has to work downtown to support my family, I have little hope the extra money will increase the bus service to any great degree. The reason is that in fiscal 2010, Metro will start paying off bond indebtedness of $676 million used to construct the Cross County Extension. The good news is that the debt will be retired in 2036 after costing a total of $1.076 billion. As I am now almost 65, I will be dead like a lot of people.

And MetroLink will never get to Butler Hill Road in my children’s lifetime.

By way of history, our political leaders were dead set on the continuing construction of MetroLink. To keep the momentum going, the East West Gateway Council of Governments determined that Metro would build the Cross County Extension without federal funding as that would have meant a two-year wait. Metro decided to use a combination of Prop M sales-tax money and issue bonds using future sales-tax receipts for payment.

A St. Louis Business Journal story stated that to issue bonds for the length of time needed, the area political leaders approached the Missouri General Assembly to repeal a sunset provision in the Prop M legislation. Bi-State, Citizens for Modern Transit and city and county officials were among those joining in the successful lobbying effort to repeal the provision. Once more the will of the people has been ignored.

That same story reported that Stifel Nicolaus & Co. was one of the main dealmakers in the sale of bonds for the Cross County Extension. It worked with Bi-State and the other senior underwriting managers on structuring the mini-bond part of the deal. The mini bonds were included as a way to allow people who traditionally don’t purchase bonds to have the opportunity to invest in the future of transit.

Mini bonds are sold in smaller amounts than the usual $5,000. This shows some smarts on the part of backers, as a small investor would work hard to keep his investment from going under.

But now is now. The current CEO of Metro is Robert Baer. He also is on the Board of Directors of Stifel Nicolaus. With the credit markets in such disarray, is he really thinking about the interest of transit riders when making decisions or is he trying to protect the reputation of Stifel Nicolaus? Isn’t this a conflict of interest?

To be sure, the political leaders of our area knew of the conflict when they appointed him. However, our political leaders are smart. His appointment takes the focus off the even bigger mistake: the building of the Cross County Extension in the first place.

Since our political leaders are so bankrupt in getting the public transit system into this mess, maybe they should swallow the bitter pill and put Metro into bankruptcy.

James F. Schaper

Oakville