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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Joplin memorial should remind lawmakers of priorities

Thursday, December 29, 2011 | 4:13 p.m. CST

Tim Bartow's house, what is left of it, anyway, stands as a chilling testament to why The Associated Press named the Joplin tornado that killed 161 people as the top news story in Missouri in 2011.

One wall remains of Mr. Bartow's home, among the thousands wiped out by the EF-5 twister's destructive power. The wall has been left as a monument to the nearly 100,000 volunteers from around the globe who helped the residents of southwest Missouri dig out of the rubble.

Mr. Bartow and officials in Joplin want the wall preserved permanently in some fashion. But the home's foundation is crumbling. Elsewhere in the neighborhood signs of rebirth suggest that the wall, and the hand-written and painted tributes it bears, will have to be moved.

We hope the wall can stand until May 22, the anniversary of the disaster. That date is about a week after the Missouri legislature concludes its 2012 session, a five-month period in which the Joplin tornado will be at the center of many discussions, sometimes for all the wrong reasons.

This was Missouri's Year of the Storm. There were St. Louis tornadoes, too, and massive flooding in northwest Missouri and southeast Missouri. In their wakes were no Democrats and Republicans, only Missourians coming together to help neighbors in need.

But it didn't take long for the unity to crumble as the tug-of-war over hundreds of millions of dollars began. In any year, this is what the legislature is all about, a constant pulling back and forth by various interests trying to grab a piece of the state's budget.

Particularly now, there is only so much money to go around. Schools, hospitals, the needy and corporations all want their piece. Lawmakers divvy up the money in a series of policy decisions based on political philosophies and parochialism.

In 2012, Joplin will be caught in the middle.

Gov. Jay Nixon and the legislature must decide how to pay for much of the work that already has been done to dig out Mr. Bartow and his neighbors. They must decide how to rebuild levees and restore farmland ravaged by the flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

Already, state Auditor Tom Schweich, a Republican, has made an issue of how the Democratic governor decided to pay for storm recovery. Mr. Schweich sued the governor, questioning his authority to take $100 million from other state programs to use for storm recovery.

Republican lawmakers saw in the killer tornado an opportunity to advance their constant attack on workers, suggesting that developers' profits are more important than the ability of Joplin workers to make a decent wage rebuilding their communities.

Bills have been filed that would exempt the storm-ravaged city from prevailing wage statutes, which exist to help laborers make a living wage and to make sure that taxpayer-funded projects are built to quality standards.

Less than a year has passed and politicians have forgotten the pledges of unity made in the aftermath of the storm.

That's why we hope Mr. Bartow's wall stands at least a little longer. It's more than a tribute to volunteers. It's a memorial to the human spirit. It's a reminder that when we say things like "never forget," we ought to mean them.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

 

 


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