Bill on public airport vote dies in committee

DOWNTOWN – A bill requiring a public vote on any plan to privatize the St. Louis Lambert International Airport failed to take off last week during a committee meeting of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. 

But the bill’s sponsor – Ward 20 Alderwoman Cara Spencer – still hopes the idea of having the public weigh in on the idea will go airborne.  

The board’s Transportation and Commerce Committee voted 3-2 on Jan. 18 against sending Spencer’s bill on to the full board for approval. Her bill requires a citywide vote to approve any proposal that has the effect of privatizing the airport, either by sale, lease or transfer, in whole or in part. 

The city has been considering privatizing Lambert through the FAA’s Airport Privatization Pilot Program and the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, likely through a lease that turns over the management to a private operator.  

“It’s disappointing to me as the primary sponsor of the bill,” Spencer said.  

But Spencer said she still is hopeful. The bill could be brought up on the floor of the Board of Aldermen. Or one of the three committee members who voted against the bill could ask for reconsideration in the committee. 

“We’re trying to figure out what the next step is,” Spencer said. Or else, she could start over in the next session, which starts in April. The bill’s cosponsors included Aldermen Brandon Bosley, Ward 3; Christine Ingrassia, Ward 6; Annie Rice, Ward 8; Dan Guenther, Ward 9; Larry Arnowitz, Ward 12; John Collins-Muhammad, Ward 21; Scott Ogilvie, Ward 24; Shane Cohn, Ward 25; and Heather Navarro, Ward 28.  

Ward 19 Alderman Marlene Davis, who is transportation committee chair, said she was in favor of the concept of a public vote, but that there were problems with the bill. She voted against it, along with Ward 21 Alderman John Collins-Muhammad and Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Middlebrook. 

“We’ve been working with this bill for a long time. I have asked that the bill be amended with the correct information, and that has not been done,” Davis said.  

That includes information about the federal law that allows privatization, Davis said. Also, the part of the bill that says the airport can’t be sold, isn’t necessary because the law prohibits says, she said. That should be removed, she said. Spencer agreed to make those changes if the bill came up on the floor of the Board of Aldermen. 

Davis predicted this isn’t the end of the measure. “I guarantee you somebody’s going to put it back,” she said.  

Voting in favor of the bill were 23rd Ward Alderman Joe Vaccaro and 14th Ward Alderwoman Carol Howard.  

“I don’t think it was the best bill. I don’t know that it did what they wanted it to, but I do think it should have gone to the full board for a debate of all the aldermen, versus just a handful of us that were at a particular meeting. Ultimately, I believe the people should vote on this,” Vaccaro said. “Is this the bill that would actually trigger that and make that happen? I don’t know.” 

Howard said her vote was the result of what residents of her ward said in a survey she sent out. Overwhelmingly, they said they wanted to vote on it. 

Howard said she thought the committee would vote to send the bill on to the full Board of Aldermen. “I thought it was a done deal, but stranger things (have happened), she said.”

Jim Merkel

Author: Jim Merkel

Born and raised in St. Louis, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of four books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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