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Court Hearing Set On Proposal That Would Block Tax Breaks For Peabody

Monday's "St. Louis on the Air" will cover the pressing legal issues of the day.
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A court hearing is set for Friday on a suit to toss out a proposed St. Louis charter amendment, now slated for the April ballot, that would bar tax breaks for Peabody Energy or any other firm involved in “unsustainable energy production.”

The suit was filed last week by three city residents and a law firm, who all claim to be taxpayers who would be affected by passage of the ballot measure on April 8.

The hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. before Judge Robert Dierker. 

Among other things, the suit contends that the ballot measure – placed by initiative petition -- violates the state constitution and city charter and has misleading language.

The suit says that the state constitution stipulates that only the St. Louis Board of Aldermen can initiate a charter change. It also contends that the city’s Election Board failed to comply with a charter mandate that it determine the “sufficiency’’ of any initiative petition. The ballot proposal is insufficient for a variety of legal reasons, the suit contends, including poor language.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs have declined to comment or declined to return phone calls.

Peabody Energy and two of the region’s utilities – Ameren and Laclede Gas – are not among the plaintiffs, although the ballot issue’s backers and critics have acknowledged that the energy firms might be among those most affected.

The coalition behind the initiative-petition effort, called Take Back St. Louis, includes some groups that have been critical of Peabody and participated in protests outside its downtown headquarters.

In a statement, the coalition contended that Peabody and its allies are behind the lawsuit and “are intentionally misleading the public on what the Take Back St. Louis initiative will do. Corporations like Peabody who receive corporate welfare are throwing any hope of a legal argument against the wall to see what sticks. In doing so, they are subverting the democratic process and blocking conversation on an important question facing the city: Will we continue to give corporate welfare to companies like Peabody or will we invest in a local sustainable economy to create green jobs?”

The ballot measure seeks to block any further city tax breaks from going to Peabody, which earlier received incentives to keep the firm’s headquarters downtown, or to any other entity “that does $1 million of business with them per year."  The issue does not mention Peabody by name, but the ballot issue’s wording – by all accounts – would apply primarily to Peabody.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and his staff have said the ballot issue could force many major businesses to leave the city.  Backers of the measure say it would encourage more constructive and cost-effective ways to improve the city and create jobs.

Other provisions include a mandate that the city set up “a sustainable energy plan that includes public money for renewable energy and sustainability projects and opens up city-held land for related projects.”

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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