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Firefighters union endorses Lamping for state Senate, touching off sales tax debate

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 18, 2010 - Republican John Lamping, who's hoping to recapture the 24th District state Senate seat for the GOP, is announcing yet another public safety endorsement: the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 2665, which represents 1,800 area firefighters.

A week ago, Lamping -- a financier making his first bid for public office -- announced his endorsement by the St. Louis Police Officers Association, which represents police in St. Louis.

The 24th District -- which takes in such suburbs as Clayton, Richmond Heights, Ladue, Creve Coeur and Olivette -- is currently represented by Democrat Joan Bray, who can't seek re-election because of term limits. Those vying to succeed her include two prominent Democrats: former state Reps. Barbara Fraser and Sam Page. Fraser currently is president of the St. Louis County Council, representing the 5th District.

In a statement, the firefighters' group said it was supporting Lamping because it "wholeheartedly believes that John Lamping is the candidate who can and will get the job done for the 24th District. John’s strong financial background and interest in serving our community has allowed him to take on leadership roles in various St. Louis philanthropic organizations. In this increasingly partisan environment, we need a true community servant like John to put politics aside and protect the working families in our region."

Lamping said in his statement, "It’s an honor to have the endorsement of our local firefighters. They play a huge part in ensuring our safety and I’m thankful to have the support of the men and women who risk their lives every day to protect our families."

But Page alleges that a deal was involved in the endorsement.

Page says Lamping "has committed to an $80 million tax increase in St. Louis County dedicated to Firefighters Local 2665 in return for their endorsement this November. I was alerted to this backroom deal by friends inside the union leadership, but I refused to believe it,” Page said in a statement. “That’s the kind of thing that reflects badly on all of us in the political process. This legislation would allow fire districts to levy sales taxes.  It has long been the No. 1 priority of firefighters in the state capital, but legislators concerned about raising taxes in an economic downturn have put up strong opposition."

Page said that Bray had opposed the idea in the state Senate, as did state Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, in the House.

“If elected this November, I will take up Joan’s task. This is a bad tax at a bad time,” said Page. “I am appalled that my Republican opponent, John Lamping, has embraced it."


Local 2665 vice president Kurt Becker just issued the following statement lambasting Page:

"Sam Page’s accusation that the IAFF chose to endorse John Lamping based on his alleged support of sales tax authorization language for first responders is blatantly false. 

"The IAFF, the Missouri State Council of Fire Fighters, and Local 2665 endorsed John after months of careful consideration because we determined that he is the best candidate for our members on our issues, for first responders in Missouri, and for all of our state’s working families."

Becker contended that Page was acting out of pique because, "for months, Mr. Page has aggressively courted the firefighters' endorsement. His hastily prepared and ill-informed statement this morning, less than 24 hours after our endorsement of John Lamping, is a clear indicator that he took our support for granted and that he is painfully out of touch with the issues facing tax payers and first responders today."

Becker did acknowledge, however, that Lamping supports the local's longstanding push to persuade the Legislature to give authority to local fire districts and departments to seek sales taxes to help pay for fire protection.

"The legislation we have sought for years would give local voters in St. Louis County the right to use sales taxes" to pay for fire protection services, Becker said. "Each community could choose whether or not to implement a sales tax and an accompanying real estate tax roll-back based exclusively on voter approval."

"The firefighters have not ever, are not now, and have no intention of seeking an $80 million county-wide sales tax for fire service.  We simply want to give local voters a choice. Firefighters and John Lamping agree that local voters deserve the right to choose how to fund core services such as Fire and EMS Protection.  We are puzzled that Mr. Page would be against such a fundamental concept and that as a senator, he would stand against giving taxpayers in St. Louis County the same right afforded to nearly every other taxpayer in the state of Missouri."


Lamping is denying any deal, and also accusing Page of flip-flopping on the tax issue.

"In seeking the endorsement from the IAFF, Sam Page indicated he would 'carry their water' and support local voters’ rights to support increased funding for emergency services in several of our communities," Lamping said. "Failing to get the endorsement, he has now switched his position. As a result of polls showing Page falling behind Barb Fraser, he is looking to create, or manufacture as in this case, an issue that does not exist..."

While contending that Lamping "opposes higher taxes," Lamping's campaign did acknowledge that he does support "giving voters the right to determine the level at which their schools and critical services are funded, rather than having state bureaucrats and politicians impose taxes from Jefferson City..."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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