It looks increasingly likely that St. Louis voters will see two tax-related measures on the April ballot.
In a rare Monday meeting, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen gave initial approval to a proposed half-cent increase in the sales tax. The second measure would direct the resulting increase in the use tax to a proposed Major League Soccer stadium near Union Station.
The two measures took a convoluted path to Monday's vote — particularly the soccer stadium proposal. Alderman Christine Ingrassia, D-6th Ward, admitted that she had been lobbying against her own legislation, and at one point last Thursday, the committee considering the measure voted it down.
"I was able to do some work to make it revenue neutral, and then thanks to the work of the committee who brought up some thoughtful criticism, we were able to turn the tide and I felt like I could bring it before the full board for debate," Ingrassia said on Monday.
Aldermen fell into two camps during debate. Opponents like Alderman Sam Moore, D-4th Ward, could not understand why the city was talking about putting resources toward another stadium while neglecting the needs of his north city ward.
"We don’t care about soccer, hockey, baseball, none of that. What we care about is a better living," he said. "Our living conditions are deplorable."
Alderman Tom Villa, D-11th Ward, applauded the work that Ingrassia and the Ways and Means committee had done to make major changes to the measure.
"That being said, it seems like we're dancing to the tune of pro sports in a time when there are a lot of other dire needs, to echo the sentiments of the alderman from the 4th, in my ward also," Villa said. "Of course this is a good thing for the region."
But the sentiment voiced by Alderman Marlene Davis, D-19th Ward, carried the day.
"For me, I can vote for this because I know the final decision comes from the constituency, and that's who we serve" Davis said. "That's their decision to make, and we have everything in there as far as I'm concerned as safeguards."
Alderman Sharon Tyus, D-1st Ward, said she believed the public deserved the right to vote, but objected to the measures being put on the April ballot, when turnout is the lowest.
- Ayes: Flowers, Hubbard, Ingrassia, Coatar, Conway, Ortmann, Vollmer, Arnowitz, Murphy, Howard, Roddy, Davis, Vaccaro, Ogilvie, Cohn, Krewson, Reed (17)
- Nays: Tyus, Moore, Villa, Green, Kennedy, Spencer, French, Williamson, Carter (9)
- Absent: Bosley, Boyd
Aldermen will hold a committee hearing Wednesday night on the overall financing plan, which includes the $60 million in use tax revenue. Still up in the air is the exact role the state of Missouri will play in getting the stadium built.
A spokesman for the ownership group, SC STL, did not comment on Monday's vote.
Economic development sales tax
Aldermen on Monday also gave their first OK to a half-cent sales tax increase, which would help fund workforce development and a north-south MetroLink line. The use tax would go up only if the sales tax increase is approved.
"In the interest of being 100 percent accurate with voters, this is a big step towards MetroLink expansion, but it's not the last step," said Alderman Scott Ogilvie, D-24th Ward, a champion of mass transit. "We are going to need work very hard as a city and a region should this sales tax pass to actually build an expanded MetroLink. We’re going to need more money, and we’re going to identify a source of operating funds as well."
Though mayoral candidate Antonio French, D-21st Ward, ultimately voted yes on the increase, he was concerned that the city may be running into the limit of what voters are willing to pay in sales tax.
"St. Louis is on pace to have the highest sales tax in the nation, passing San Francisco," he said. "So when we actually have real needs, we will not have the option of raising the sales tax because we paid for all of these things that we didn't really need."
- Ayes: Flowers, Hubbard, Ingrassia, Coatar, Ortmann, Vollmer, Arnowitz, Murphy, Howard, Green, Roddy, Davis, French, Spencer, Vaccaro, Cohn, Williamson, Carter, Krewson, Reed (20)
- Nays: Moore, Villa, Kennedy (3)
- Present: Tyus (1)
- Did not vote: Ogilvie
- Absent: Bosley, Conway, Boyd
Aldermen will take a second required vote on both tax measures on Friday. Mayor Francis Slay will sign them if they get to his desk. A court order is needed to put them on the April ballot.
Scottrade Center renovations
A $70 million project to upgrade the Scottrade Center will require some maneuvering to get back on track after the Ways and Means committee rejected it on Monday morning.
As he did with the MLS bill last week, Alderman Steve Conway, D-8th Ward, voted against the measure so he can bring it back up for a vote if needed. And as was the case last week, Ogilvie appears to be the swing vote.
- Ayes: Vaccaro, Murphy, Reed (3)
- Nays: Moore, French, Carter, Conway (4)
- Present: Ogilvie (1)
- Absent: Kennedy
"I just want people who worry about the city's level of debt and the budget to be a little more satisfied," Ogilvie told St. Louis Public Radio after the meeting. "The big thing is to minimize impact to general revenue, which I think is possible if people think a little bit more creatively."
Board president Lewis Reed, also a candidate for mayor, said he's confident the St. Louis Blues ownership group and the committee will reach an agreement.
"What's important is that at the end of the day we have a really good bill. [The no vote] gives us an opportunity to keep it in committee and continue to work on it," Reed said.
Board rules require any negotiations on Scottrade be wrapped up by Wednesday. That's the next time the Ways and Means committee meets, and what's known as "reconsideration" — taking the vote again — has to happen at the next meeting.
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