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One Year Since St. Louis County Voters Approved Proposition A

A year ago St. Louis County voters approved a small sales tax increase to fund transit, Proposition A. Wednesday I attended a panel discussion on why this measure  passed where previous attempts had failed.  Professors Todd Swanstrom & David Kimball introduced their new study:  From Checkbook Campaigns to Civic Coalitions: Lessons from the Passage of Prop A (PDF).  From the introduction:

On April 6, 2010 the voters of St. Louis County approved a tax increase for transit with a surprising 63 percent majority. The 1⁄2 cent sales tax now raises about $75 million a year to maintain the bus system and expand light rail. Seventeen months earlier a similar initiative had lost with 48 percent of the vote. With the economy in a recession in 2010, unemployment high, and the anti- tax Tea Party movement rising around the nation, the huge majority for Prop A was startling. In this paper we try to explain the success of Prop A and tease out the lessons for future tax initiative campaigns and civic coalitions.

Compared to the defeat of Prop M in 2008 two characteristics of the 2010 Prop A election make the victory especially surprising and help to frame our analysis: 1) Prop A succeeded in an off-year election when the composition of the electorate is less inclined to support tax increases and public transit; 2) Prop A, at least initially, did not enjoy unified business support – usually the kiss of death for transit tax initiatives.

The report details how the campaign differed from prior campaigns.  One difference was the campaign targeted some voters, as outlined by the dark line below.

ABOVE: the dark area had increased support of more than 18%, the grey 10-18%

Basically efforts were concentrated on West & North County and ignoring far SW and South parts of the County.  Voters who had voted in the prior 12 elections were targeted rather than all registered voters.  Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT) funded an educational component that never mentioned Prop A.  The pro-transit slogan was: Some of us ride it. All of us need it. Here is the TV spot that ran in the months leading up to the vote:


Notice Metro isn’t mentioned at all, the focus is on transit.

At the panel an audience member asked about a more regional approach and including St. Charles County. All agreed that more of the region should be served by transit but it was noted those areas need to step up with a funding source. In Illinois both Madison & St. Clair Counties fund transit.    While the 2010 passage of Prop A was important, we still have more work to do.

– Steve Patterson


Readers Think Rex Sinquefield Will Fund Campaign To Repeal Earnings Tax

November 17, 2010 Politics/Policy, Taxes 1 Comment

Readers think, by a wide margin, that voters in April 2011 will retain our 1% earnings tax.

Q: Now that voters approved Proposition A, what do you think will happen in St. Louis next April?

  1. Rex Sinquefield funds an expensive campaign but city voters keep the earnings tax 87 [51.48%]
  2. Rex Sinquefield doesn’t fund the repeal campaign and city voters keep the earnings tax 37 [21.89%]
  3. Rex Sinquefield funds an expensive campaign and city voters repeal the earnings tax 21 [12.43%]
  4. Rex Sinquefield doesn’t fund the repeal campaign still city voters repeal the earnings tax 15 [8.88%]
  5. Unsure/no opinion 6 [3.55%]
  6. Other answer… 3 [1.78%]

Many also think Rex Sinquefield will fund the repeal campaign, just as he did with the Proposition A campaign.

  1. rex gets a nose job.
  2. Rex tries to remove the KC tax first, since it was closer to passing there.
  3. KC will eventually repeal, STL never will.

One thing is certain, the usually boring April general election will be more interesting than usual.

– Steve Patterson


Poll: Will St. Louis Voters Repeal The Earnings Tax in April 2011?

November 7, 2010 Sunday Poll, Taxes 10 Comments
ABOVE: about 1/3 of the city's revenue comes from the earnings tax
ABOVE: about 1/3 of the city's revenue comes from the earnings tax

Tuesday Missouri voters approved Proposition A by a wide margin.

Yes 1,294,705 [68.4%]
No 597,920 [31.6%]
Total Votes 1,892,625

As a result, Missouri cities no longer have the option of an earnings tax.  The two cities with an earnings tax, Kansas City & St. Louis, must hold a vote in the Spring to see if voters wish to keep the earnings tax.  If they vote to eliminate the earnings tax it would be phased out over a 10 year period.  If kept, another vote must take place 5 years later, in 2016.

Voters in both cities voted against Proposition A, although not as strongly in Kansas City

St. Louis:

YES 28,251 [31.84%]
NO 60,473 [68.16%]

Kansas City:

YES 37,264 [44.85%]
NO 45,826 [55.15%]

The poll question this week seeks to find out what you think will be the outcome of this vote in St. Louis.  The answers have two parts — will Rex Sinquefield fund the campaign to repeal the earnings tax and will we keep the tax or repeal it?  The poll is in the upper right sidebar.

– Steve Patterson


Voters Could Always Decide on Earnings Taxes

November 1, 2010 Politics/Policy, Taxes 11 Comments

votenopropa_yardsignI urge every voter in Missouri to vote NO on Proposition A on Tuesday.  I’ll explain why but first I want to examine the arguments in favor.

The slogan for passage is “let the voters decide.” Sounds logical enough, why shouldn’t we get to decide? From the pro-A website:

If Prop A passes in November, will the local earnings taxes automatically be eliminated in St. Louis and Kansas City?

Prop A does not automatically repeal those existing earnings taxes. It allows local voters to make that decision in local elections. If Missouri voters pass Prop A this November, the politicians will be required to allow local votes of the people on the existing earnings tax in St. Louis and Kansas City every five years, starting in 2011. These local votes will let voters decide for themselves if they want to continue their local earnings tax or gradually phase it out at the rate of one-tenth of one percent per year for 10 years.

Okay here is where I have  a problem with their wording.  “It allows local voters to make that decision in local elections” makes it sound like we must pass Prop A in order to have a local election on continuing to have an earnings tax or eliminate it and get the 1/3 of our annual revenue through other taxes. This is just not true!

Anyone with a better idea on how to fund St. Louis & Kansas City could use the initiative petition process to propose changes that would reduce/eliminate the earnings tax.

“1. Article V of the City Charter provides a procedure by which registered voters may propose an ordinance or an amendment to the City Charter and have it adopted by the voters, with the same effect as if it had been enacted by the Board of Aldermen and approved by the Mayor. This procedure consists of gathering the signatures of registered voters on an initiative petition.”

But the wealthy backer of Proposition A, Rex Sinquefield, knew if he got petitions on the ballot in St. Louis & Kansas City that spelled out how our sales taxes and property taxes would increase up to 50% to make up for the loss in revenue from the earnings taxes that he wouldn’t stand a chance.

“Their next sentence is “If Missouri voters pass Prop A this November, the politicians will be required to allow local votes of the people on the existing earnings tax in St. Louis and Kansas City every five years, starting in 2011” Clearly they are playing to the anti-politician sentiment we’ve been seeing nationally. Sounds like making the politicians do something, making them give us the right to reconsider the earnings tax every five years.  So?

The translation is this gives Rex Sinquefield numerous times to personally fund the campaigns to end the earnings tax in St. Louis & Kansas City.  It also means when either city goes to sell bonds to finance projects the bond rating will be higher causing a higher interest rate, potentially sidelining projects that might be able to be funded today.

Governments provide services and people pay taxes to fund those services.  There are many ways to fund governments.  St. Louis and Kansas City are both on the state line and have workers paying the tax that don’t live in the city.  Some live elsewhere in Missouri while others live in Illinois and Kanas, respectively.  Both cities provide services within each region that benefit those workers as well as their respective regions.

I have no love affair with the earnings tax and would gladly look at alternative funding concepts.  But until such alternates actually exist we don’t need to be trashing our bond rating and risking future projects. One-third of the St. Louis budget is a lot to try to make up elsewhere.

More info can be found at SayNoToA.org.

– Steve Patterson


Sorry Rex, Readers Oppose Proposition A

September 28, 2010 Politics/Policy, Taxes 17 Comments
ABOVE: Rex Sinquefield is the man behind Proposition A. Image: Riverfront Times

The poll last week showed most readers disagree with Rex Sinquefield about Proposition A on the November  Missouri ballot.  What does he think of the municipal earnings tax in St. Louis & Kansas City?

“Instead of paying income and earnings taxes — in which the more you make, the more you’re taxed — Sinquefield wants to boost sales taxes.

In his mind, this is a more equitable way of taxing the public — a theory that makes lots o’ cents if you’re loaded but not so if you’re middle-class (or below) and forced to pay additional sales taxes to make up for the elimination of income taxes. (RFT: Hey St. Louis, About That Billionaire Knocking on Your Door…)”

The following was the results:

Q: Missouri Prop A would require votes in KC & STL to retain the 1% earnings tax. Thoughts?

  1. Missouri voters should reject Prop A 135 [62.5%]
  2. The earnings tax needs to go and passing Prop A is the first step 40 [18.52%]
  3. Passing Prop A is OK, that allows local voters to decide to keep the tax or not 33 [15.28%]
  4. Unsure/no opinion 5 [2.31%]
  5. Other answer… 3 [1.39%]

And the “other” answers:

  1. Keep it but eliminate it for people living in the city.
  2. The whole thing is a charade perpetrated by a rich Tea Party jerk
  3. For most of the state, this is voting on taxes for other people.

Vote no on Prop A November 2nd!

– Steve Patterson