St. Louis County voters to decide Metro sales tax in April

St. Louis – Supporters of the St. Louis region's mass transit system hope the third time is the charm for a tax increase to help fund Metro. And managers of the region's mass transit system say if St. Louis County voters defeat a sales tax increase a third time, they will have to cut bus and train service in half.

The St. Louis County Council voted Monday to put a half-cent sales tax increase on the April 2010 ballot. Similar proposals failed in November 2008 and 1997, and the most recent failure led to drastic service cuts that were only partially restored with state money.

The recent service reductions made non-transit users aware of how important Metro's services are to the area, said CEO Bob Baer. The cuts that could follow a failure of the tax in April will be much worse.

"What they know now is when you cut service, you deprive people of getting to their job, to school, to medical appointments," he said.

Half of the roughly $80 million raised by the tax each year would fund future expansion projects; the rest would pay for operations.

Republican Councilman Gregory Quinn, one of three "no" votes on Monday, likened Metro to a city looking for a bailout after years of overspending.

"Metro overspent by building the last MetroLink extension knowing they wouldn't have the money to operate that extension once it was built," Quinn said. "Just like those states who overspent, Metro is now looking to the taxpayers in St. Louis County for a bailout."