In mid-December, Missouri Gov.-elect Eric Greitens said he would not support state aid for a new soccer stadium in St. Louis — “welfare for millionaires,” he said.
This week, the Republican said the state would not relinquish control of Kansas City’s police department.
The announcements prompted some frowns in both cities, and some smiles as well. But they also served as reminders that policymakers in Missouri’s two largest metro areas must deal with a new governor — a chief executive whose appreciation and understanding of urban issues are, at best, unclear.
“There is no question I am nervous about Kansas City and St. Louis,” said Kansas City Councilwoman Jolie Justus, a former state senator who now chairs the city’s Legislative Committee, the group charged with drafting a wish list for state government to consider.
“I want to make sure we start off on a good foot with Gov.-elect Greitens,” she said, “because I want to go down and explain to him … that frankly we’re the economic engines of the state, for the most part.”
Greitens takes the oath of office Monday.
Questions about the future relationship among Greitens, conservative state legislators and urban areas aren’t limited to police department control and stadium construction.
Some Kansas City leaders are worried about another push to end the city’s 1 percent earnings tax, for example. Or that the passage of a so-called bathroom bill, restricting the use of public restrooms by transgender people, might cause conventioners to pick another state in which to meet — a much bigger potential problem in Kansas City and St. Louis than in rural communities.
Kansas City and St. Louis interests have been nervous about Jefferson City for years, of course. Rural Republican lawmakers have long looked askance at big-city projects and have turned back city efforts to raise the minimum wage or tighten gun control laws.
Residual anger over expensive desegregation cases in both cities is still a part of Missouri politics as well.
But both cities believed they could at least get an audience with Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat. Nixon pushed hard to protect manufacturing jobs in both cities through the use of state tax credits, and he broadly supported state spending in urban areas.
Nixon was in the forefront of a losing effort to build a new football stadium in St. Louis. And his threat to veto bills seen as anti-urban might have made it harder to pass those bills in the state capital.
More broadly, Nixon often served as a political bridge linking rural interests with urban legislators. In 2012, Nixon carried Kansas City and St. Louis easily, but he also won in the Bootheel, along the Interstate 70 corridor and parts of southeast and north-central Missouri.
Greitens, by contrast, won everywhere in Missouri except Kansas City and St. Louis, and Columbia. The incoming governor owes nothing politically to either major city.
The governor-elect’s staff did not respond to a request for comment. In a Kansas City appearance Tuesday, Greitens told reporters, “We’re going to put an end to politics as usual.”
Former Missouri Sen. John Lamping, a Greitens adviser familiar with Kansas City and St. Louis, insisted the incoming chief executive will be focused on challenges in both communities — just not in the way those communities might expect.
Tax credits and incentives, subsidies, low-interest bonds and other tools used to boost urban development may be on the way out, some Greitens supporters believe.
“Eric logically thinks out loud, ‘Well, OK, show me how this works,’ ” Lamping said. “He is dying to find a better way.”
Instead, Greitens wants to focus on violent crime prevention and other problems in the urban core.
“There’s no doubt in my mind he will be the most urban-centric leader the Republican Party has had since the Republican Party lived in the cities 50 years ago,” Lamping said.
Kansas Citians say there may be some early tests of that theory.
The city’s 2017 legislative priorities list contains predictable requests — more money for public health, early childhood education, transportation.
But it also includes $48 million from the state for a downtown Campus for the Arts for the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Local interests have raised $48 million privately and have long expected the promised state match to begin building the project.
“Leaders are hopeful that the Missouri legislature will recognize the immense statewide value of the UMKC Conservatory and approve state funding to match the private money that the university has raised,” said UMKC spokesman John Martellaro in a statement.
But local legislators said the state’s budget problems and a conservative governor put that spending at risk, at least for now.
Greitens’ staff also say he wants to study the state’s annual spending for the Truman Sports Complex and Bartle Hall, now roughly $5 million a year. The incoming governor understands the spending is different from support for a brand new stadium, staff members said, but he wants to examine the allocations anyway.
The state’s precarious budget clouds the picture. Greitens may be forced to cut $200 million or more from state spending his first week in office, and lawmakers may follow with more spending cuts of their own.
“I’m always concerned when the legislature starts rearranging finances that affect the city,” Mayor Sly James said this week. “I think it’s taking care of the assets we have that make this city great. I don’t think you make a city great by disinvestment.”
Some local state legislators said they will consider the session a victory for urban areas if they can limit the damage this year: save the earnings tax, keep commitments for the stadiums, stave off attempts for social legislation that would harm the areas’ reputations.
And most said they’re willing to give Greitens the benefit of the doubt on issues of importance to both cities. Greitens has his own problem in rural areas, some pointed out — the Missouri Farm Bureau endorsed his opponent. Greitens was once a Democrat, one legislator said.
And Greitens lives in St. Louis, giving him some insight into problems in that community.
“The cities … are where the economic development is happening,” said Missouri state Sen. Jason Holsman, a Kansas City Democrat. “We welcome the new governor’s assistance in continuing that progress.”