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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis County voters won't decide on law enforcement sales tax

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal walks out of the Senate chamber as the Senate adjourns for the session earlier this year in Jefferson City.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal walks out of the Senate chamber as the Senate adjourns for the session last week in Jefferson City.

Voters in parts of St. Louis County won't get a chance to vote anytime soon on a sales tax increase for St. Louis County Police Department. And St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger is not happy with a Democratic state senator for prompting that outcome.

For the past couple of legislative sessions, Stenger has wanted Missouri lawmakers to authorize a vote for a sales tax increase in unincorporated St. Louis County. The proceeds would go to the St. Louis County Police Department, and could be used for a number of initiatives, including making sure each patrol car contains two police officers.

That effort, though, got intertwined with a bid to change how the county’s 1-cent sales tax is distributed. Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, wanted to let “pool cities” keep at least 50 percent of that revenue generated in its borders. (Click here to read more about that situation.) "Pool cities" are those that pool all the 1 percent tax collected within their borders, and then divide the proceeds based off, among other things, population. 

St. Louis Police Chief Jon Belmar joined Stenger on Wednesday in announcing the minimum standards proposal.
Credit File photo by Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger

Initially, those two issues were paired together as this year’s legislature trudged along. But when the legislative session ended, the changes to the pool tax passed — but the final bill didn’t include the law enforcement tax authorization. Stenger blames Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a University City Democrat who filibustered the proposal.

“It is very disappointing to me on behalf of the million people I represent that she would have made efforts to block this piece of legislation,” Stenger said on Tuesday. “It is extraordinarily disappointing, and it’s disheartening. And I’m really shocked to see that kind of behavior coming from an elected official who represents so many St. Louis Countians.”

Stenger said the law enforcement tax was for the benefit "of unincorporated St. Louis County and incorporated St. Louis County as well.”

“I think we all benefit from a stronger, centralized police force when you consider we respond to major crimes,” Stenger said. “With respect to the things that I’ve already talked about like community policing, having greater resources for our police leading to greater and bigger public safety — those are things that I think are important to every St. Louis Countian.

“I will tell you that I have no real understanding as to why someone would do that,” he added, referring to Chappelle-Nadal’s decision to block the tax authorization. “There’s no real rational explanation for her conduct and behavior.”

“We need reform”

In a telephone interview, Chappelle-Nadal gave a number of reasons for opposing the tax proposal. She said that the St. Louis County Police Department hadn’t made substantial commitments to changing how it operates in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown.

“We can go ahead and start looking at real reform within the St. Louis County Police Department,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “And many of the people that I represent in my district and throughout the region still don’t have faith in what St. Louis County Police officers are doing. Not all. And I don’t want to say all. Because we have great officers out there. But we have not seen the reforms that we have desired for a very long time. And I think any time you’re going to do an increase, a tax increase or even a proposed one, you have to show good faith on the other side — and say that ‘you’re going to change the environment so people feel more comfortable.’”

Chappelle-Nadal also said the tax proposal is an example of skewed priorities.

“I still feel that people that are lower income African-Americans have been ignored – and other policies are being pushed. And we’re not winning,” said Chappelle-Nadal, whose Senate district is majority African-American. “My community isn’t winning. I just made a commitment to myself and the people that I represent that I was not going to budge unless I see a good faith effort on behalf of St. Louis County. Not only the Police Department, but also the county executive.”

“What we really want to have happen is we need reform. We need commitments,” she added. “We need to know exactly what the heck St. Louis County plans to do so we can have faith in their department again before we give them an increase.”

Chappelle-Nadal and Stenger are not exactly political allies. Chappelle-Nadal endorsed Stenger’s GOP opponent in the 2014 county executive’s race. And the two had a heated exchange at a recent county council meeting.  

Stenger said the future of the law enforcement proposal is unclear. If Chappelle-Nadal is still in the Senate next year (which isn’t a sure thing since she’s running for Congress), it may be difficult to get the measure across the finish line.

“We’re going to regroup and make a determination of whether that’s something that we want to do – or if the action would be futile,” he said. “As you know, with Senate rules, virtually one senator can block a piece of legislation.”

For her part, Chappelle-Nadal said Stenger will have to work with her — whether he likes it or not.

“I want to make it very clear that this is a partnership,” she said. “And he signed up for the job, just like I signed up for the job. I have to work with people, including the governor. And there are some things that I agree with the governor and will fight with him and alongside him. And there are some times when I’m fighting against him. And it’s the same thing for county executive. He wants to live the same dreams that everybody else does. But he has to communicate better.”

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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