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New Poll Shows Support For Closer City, County Relationship

UPI | Bill Greenblatt
The Admiral riverboat is helped down the Mississippi River by the tugboat Michael Luhr past the Gateway Arch in St. Louis on July 19, 2011.

Supporters of a closer relationship between St. Louis city and county can take heart from a new survey.

The Missouri Council for a Better Economy, a group linked to libertarian billionaire Rex Sinquefield, conducted the survey of 700 voters at the beginning of September. It found that a strong majority of those polled thought some form of unification was worth exploring.

"There's just a lot of people out there who are talking about it, and our hope is that putting these numbers out there will generate some more concrete follow-up," said Nancy Rice, a spokeswoman for the council.

A fact sheet provided with the poll discussed a possible constitutional amendment on the November 2016 ballot, but Rice says the council isn't advocating a position.

The survey dove a bit deeper into two forms of unification - one that would simply make the city another municipality in the county, and another, more drastic option that would eliminate all municipal governments.

  • In the city, an equal number of residents (35%) supported the full unification and new municipality options at the beginning. But by the end of the 26-question survey, 56 percent favored total reunification, and 52 percent favored entering the county as a municipality.
  • In St. Louis County, 27 percent supported full unification at the start of the survey, compared with 43 percent for a new municipality. By the end, support for full unification had grown to 37 percent, but support for a new municipality had stayed at 43 percent.
  • In the rest of the state, 28 percent supported total reunification at first, and 39 percent the re-entry scenario. When the survey was complete, support for full unification had jumped to 43 percent, but support for re-entry remained the same.

In other words, the more information voters got, the more they favored a more drastic action.
"They want the region competing at a national level or an international level for job creation, not across town," Rice said. "And it was really amazing to me to see how well voters understand that phenomenon."

Officials with Mayor Francis Slay's office did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Charlie Dooley says the county executive prefers to keep exploring ways to cooperate on their own, not to "force a marriage."

Some other interesting tidbits from the survey, whose toplines (responses in their most basic form) are available here:

  • 48 percent of those surveyed in the city find the quality of the services they received to be excellent or good. 50 percent found them fair or poor. 
  • City voters also didn't think politicians were doing a very good job preparing for an era of reduced or stagnant revenue.
  • County voters were more enthused about the quality of the service they were provided -  59 percent rated them either excellent or good, with just 32 percent saying they were fair or poor.
  • But county residents were not enamored with the way their leaders manage funds. Just 39 percent thought they were doing an excellent or good job, compared with 53 percent who thought they were doing a fair or poor job.

The most interesting nugget? 55 percent would definitely or probably support  a constitutional amendment increasing the state's cigarette tax by a dollar, bringing it to $1.17 a pack. That might be a surprise, given that a similar ballot measure failed in November. So what gives?

Misty Snodgrass with the American Cancer Society pointed out that the poll was done about eight weeks before the election.

"The profit-driven tobacco industry and their allies use all sorts of lies and scare tactics to make some voters second-guess their initial response and their support. And so I think that’s what happened between September and November," she said.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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