Getting money allocated for a buyout program for homes near a toxic landfill just northwest of St. Louis has been a multiyear mission for state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal.
And she says that mission took a big setback Wednesday as lawmakers were putting finishing touches on the state’s $27 billion budget.
Chappelle-Nadal originally asked for $12.5 million to fund the program, which would have been enough to buy out 91 eligible homes and a small trailer park near the West Lake Landfill. The landfill stores radioactive waste left over from the Manhattan Project, and neighbors have long complained that exposure to the landfill causes asthma, cancer and other chronic illnesses.
During debate last week in the Senate, she settled for $3 million. On Wednesday, that figure was cut to $1 million by budget negotiators from the Missouri House and Senate.
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Lawmakers voted Thursday to approve that budget bill — one of 13 that make up the Missouri budget — and send it to the governor. But not before Chappelle-Nadal said her piece.
“As far as I’m concerned, looking from a bird’s eye view, this is so miniscule,” said Chappelle-Nadal, a University City Democrat. “This is a tiny, tiny, tiny step.”
Chappelle-Nadal threatened to filibuster the budget bill Thursday. That could have effectively derailed the Senate, which faces a deadline to approve a budget by Friday evening. But after about 45 minutes of floor debate, Chappelle-Nadal sat down.
“I didn’t want to hold up the budget,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “But I do have another week. I can’t be predictable — I will never be predictable.”
The state constitution mandates that the session adjourn for the year at 6 p.m. May 12.
Although the bill passed the Senate on Thursday, a bill that would actually create the buyout program still awaits House approval.
That bill, which cleared the Senate last month, would create a fund within the Department of Natural Resources that would allow homeowners who wish to leave to have their homes purchased by the department at market value.
The House Budget Committee on Thursday added numerous amendments to the bill, which means if it is ultimately approved by the House, it will once again need to be taken up by the Senate.
Chappelle-Nadal said that if the bill comes back to the Senate with too many disagreeable amendments, she’d consider a filibuster.
“Even with this very difficult budget process that we’re going through, we’re telling mothers and families, fathers, ‘You’re going to have to wait and take that chance,’ ” Chappelle-Nadal said Thursday.
But House Budget chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, a Shell Knob Republican, said that during a tight budget year, Chappelle-Nadal should be happy with what she’s being offered.
“It’s a year where we cut $500 million from the budget,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m hoping she can be happy. It’s hard for me to understand how someone could be upset that their unprecedented appropriation is not big enough.”
Senate Appropriations chairman Dan Brown, a Rolla Republican, told Chappelle-Nadal on Thursday that the bill would bring about change regardless of the amount appropriated.
“Dollar amount is important,” Brown said. “But I don’t think the total dollar amount is nearly as important as the amount of scrutiny or the amount of interest that you brought to this problem by doing this one thing.”
But for Chappelle-Nadal, it’s not nearly enough.
“My question is where is their humanity?” Chappelle-Nadal asked. “Do they have humanity inside of them?”