St. Louis – The third time has proven to be the charm for supporters of a half-cent sales tax increase for the region's public transit agency, Metro.
Unofficial results show the measure, Proposition A, passing with about 62 percent of the vote, likely helped by a massive advertising campaign. Supporters raised more than $700,000. It's the third time county residents have voted on the increase, which will trigger a quarter-cent sales tax increase city voters approved in the 90s.
Metro will use some of the money to restore bus routes it was forced to cut when a similar measure failed in 2008. The other half of the $80 million to $90 million in additional revenue will fund future expansions of MetroLink and the possible construction of bus rapid transit corridors.
"All I can say is, thank God," Metro CEO Bob Baer told a crowd of supporters gathered at Washington University. The agency would have been forced to eliminate 50 percent of its current service and lay off 650 people without the money. "At Metro, we take this vote very seriously. We realize it's a vote of confidence by the public. We promise and pledge public accountability, transparency ,and the provision of the best service that we can possibly provide."
Baer said Metro had been planning for either passage or failure of the tax. Beginning tomorrow, he said, the agency will look at who they want to hire and re-hire to operate the buses on the restored routes, but he said it will likely be the fall before service is fully restored.
John Nations, the Republican mayor of Chesterfield, was the unlikely spokesman for the Prop A campaign. But the issue wasn't about parties or candidates, he said.
"All we asked of the voters of St. Louis County was please look at this issue very hard, and please vote on Election Day. And today the voters of St. Louis County came out strong to make a very strong statement about the future of this region," he said.
Proposition A opponents acknowledge the Quixotic nature of their campaign. They were outspent nearly a thousand to one, and got both a lower percentage and a lower total number of votes than in 2008, when the tax increase got just 48 percent.
Spokesman Jonathon Burns said opponents will now focus on making sure that Nations and other supporters keep the promises they made in the campaign.
"John Nations has gone on the record as saying that for every dollar spent on mass transit in the St. Louis region, the St. Louis region can expect to get four dollars in return out of it," he said. "Well, I hereby give John Nations one year, and if we have not gotten $320 million on investment in the St. Louis economy as a direct result of Proposition A, then John Nations and the pro-tax coalition is proven a liar."
Burns said he will also turn his attention to making bond sales by Metro subject to a vote.
"Right now bonds can be sold on behalf of Metro which are not subject to referendum," he said. "I think that is absolutely insane. What that means is that they can run up the community credit card and nobody can stop them."