Long, strange trip of tax measures to April ballot is almost complete
Mayor Francis Slay has signed legislation that could lead to funding for both MetroLink expansion and a stadium for Major League Soccer.
One bill signed by the mayor on Friday asks voters to approve a half-cent sales tax increase, which is intended to partially fund a north-south MetroLink line, as well as neighborhood and workforce development initiatives. The second measure, also signed on Friday, asks voters if revenue from the resulting increase in the use tax should be directed to the new stadium just west of Union Station.
In remarks at the signing, Slay was very careful to emphasize the sales tax increase.
"This is my number-one priority at this point in my 16 years," he said. "And it’s something I’m hoping to leave to whomever takes my place as mayor of the city of St. Louis. This is a big deal. This is something that will impact our entire city."
But, he added, the stadium has benefits as well.
"Aside from generating significant tax revenues, the new multi-use stadium will help re-develop a large tract of land and create an extraordinary entertainment corridor along Market Street."
The mayor's signature was barely dry before city attorneys filed paperwork asking a judge to place the measures on the April ballot. A ruling is expected next week.
In a letter to Major League Soccer commission Don Garber, Slay pledged to campaign "enthusiastically and tirelessly" alongside the SC STL ownership group for the soccer stadium measure. He invited Garber to the city before the April election.
"This project will be a major victory for the City of St. Louis. We look forward to further sharing our vision with voters and detailing the merits of the projects in the weeks ahead," SC STL executive Jim Kavanaugh said in a statement.
The measure will face determined opposition from aldermen who believed the additional use tax revenue should go to basic city needs like building demolition and more police officers.
"People are getting kind of tired of us down at City Hall," said mayoral candidate Antonio French, D-21st Ward. "We continue to put things on the ballot that don't really reflect their priorities. I feel pretty confident that voters are going to reject this."
French was also concerned that the soccer tax jeopardized the economic development tax increase, which he supported.
Alderman Sam Moore, D-4th Ward, was one of three aldermen to reject both measures.
"You can find money for everything but the right thing," he said. "Shame on you."
The soccer stadium remains far from a sure thing. The public financing portion, which totals about $60 million, must get voter approval. Aldermen must still approve an overall financing plan, which will be up for initial debate and approval next Friday. Language added to the measure requires some form of participation from the state.
Of course, Major League soccer would have to award an expansion team to St. Louis. The league will expand to 26 teams by the end of 2017. St. Louis is among 12 cities that submitted an application.
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