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St. Louis Voter’s Guide To The April 6 Election: Jones-Spencer, Prop E And MSD Bonding

St. Louis Mayoral candidates Cara Spencer (left) and Tishaura Jones go head-to-head in a runoff election April 6.
File photos / David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis mayoral candidates Cara Spencer (left) and Tishaura Jones go head-to-head in a runoff election April 6. The two participated in a March 30 debate hosted by St. Louis Public Radio, Nine PBS, 5 On Your Side and the St. Louis American.

Updated at 2:30 p.m. April 2

St. Louis voters will elect a new mayor April 6: Tishaura Jones or Cara Spencer.

City voters will also decide runoff aldermanic elections in 16 of the city’s 28 wards, whether again to retain the earnings tax and six ballot issues addressing the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District borrowing $500 million to improve wastewater service and changes to the utility’s charter. St. Louis County voters will also weigh in on MSD. St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green is running unopposed on the ballot to retain her citywide office.

After an unprecedented expansion of absentee and mail-in voting options for the November 2020 general election, ways to vote this Tuesday have mostly returned to normal.

Here’s a breakdown of those rules and how you can still vote absentee: How To Vote In St. Louis’ April 6 Mayoral Election

St. Louis mayor

The showdown between Treasurer Tishaura Jones and Alderwoman Cara Spencer, 20th Ward, is the big-ticket race this election. The candidates received the highest vote counts in the March primary and, under the rules of the new approval voting system, now face each other in a first-ever runoff election for the city’s top office. It’s the first time two women, both single mothers, will compete head-to-head to be St. Louis mayor.

The candidates last Thursday participated in a mayoral debate produced by St. Louis Public Radio, 5 On Your Side, Nine PBS and St. Louis American. Watch it here:

St. Louis Mayoral Debate | March 30, 2021

Jones and Spencer have run campaigns touting themselves as progressive candidates seeking to change how the city addresses violent crime, to invest in neighborhoods long neglected by developers and to spend an unprecedented $500 million infusion from the national American Rescue Plan. The race of the candidates — Jones is Black and Spencer is white — and how they plan to address racial inequities in St. Louis has been a key aspect of the runoff election.

In addition to appearing in last week’s debate, both candidates were interviewed on St. Louis Public Radio’s "Politically Speaking" podcast and "St. Louis on the Air." Candidates are listed in the order that they appear on the April ballot.

St. Louis Mayoral candidates Cara Spencer and Tishaura Jones on Tuesday, March 30, 2021 participated in a debate hosted by St. Louis Public Radio, Nine PBS, 5 On Your Side and the St. Louis American.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
Cara Spencer participates in a mayoral debate last week.

Cara Spencer

Spencer has represented the 20th Ward since 2015. Before entering politics, she did mathematical modeling for a local health care consulting company. This is Spencer’s first campaign for mayor. She lives in the Marine Villa neighborhood.

Read STLPR’s profile: With Long Mayoral Campaign Near An End, Cara Spencer Says St. Louis Is Ready For Change

  • On race: “I acknowledge that being a white person, I don't understand the lived experience of our communities of color. I do acknowledge that the history in our nation of leaders, all leaders failing communities of color creates skepticism, skepticism that is born out of real lived experience. And it is my job as an elected official to break that down not with words, but with actions,” Spencer said during last week’s debate. She has pointed to her work in the 20th Ward, one of the city’s most diverse. “We have been engaged in development here in these neighborhoods that have been equitable not just by investing in affordable housing, but making sure that they're woven into the same neighborhoods the same blocks as market rate development,” she said.
  • On crime and policing: Spencer’s message includes a 10-point plan to address violent crime. She’s pledging to bring in focused deterrence, which targets social services to those at the highest risk of being involved in criminal activity. She would also pay attention to one of the most basic services of a police department — answering 911 calls. Right now, she said, 25% of emergency calls made in the city are answered by a recording. She has pledged to reorganize the police department to free up officers to do more community policing and investigations and said she will refuse to meet with Jeff Roorda, the business manager of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, calling his rhetoric “divisive and counterproductive.”
  • First 100 days: Implementing her crime plan tops Spencer's to-do list for her first weeks in office. But she is also promising to immediately turn her attention to the budget as well. Spencer would use money from the $500 million in federal rescue aid for rental and mortgage assistance, small business relief and vaccinations. She pledges community involvement in how the money is spent, and transparency in how the decisions are made.

More coverage:

St. Louis Mayoral candidates Cara Spencer and Tishaura Jones on Tuesday, March 30, 2021 participated in a debate hosted by St. Louis Public Radio, Nine PBS, 5 On Your Side and the St. Louis American.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis mayoral candidate Tishaura Jones speaks during a debate last week.

Tishaura Jones

Tishaura Jones has served as the city’s treasurer since 2013. Prior to her election to that post, she spent four years in the Missouri House of Representatives. She has also worked in the health care and finance industries. This is her second bid for mayor. If she wins, she would become the city’s first Black mayor since Clarence Harmon was elected in 1997. Jones lives in the West End neighborhood.

Read STLPR’s profile: With Long Mayoral Campaign Near An End, Cara Spencer Says St. Louis Is Ready For Change

  • On race: “I’m unapologetically Black. And I put that at the forefront of every decision that I make,” Jones said during last week’s debate. Though white allies are necessary for the city to move forward, she said, they do not have the experience necessary to lead a majority-minority city. “Until we are serious about and intentional about putting racial equity at the center of all of our decisions, race will be one of those things that continues to hold our region back from being the best it can be,” she said.
  • On crime and policing: Jones touts a “community-first public safety” plan that would restructure the police department and reallocate money to substance abuse and mental health services, job training programs and other programs that she says would address the root causes of crime. She pledges to retrain 911 dispatchers to send social workers or other licensed professionals to respond to mental health episodes, Jones said. Like Spencer, Jones pledges to implement focused deterrence and says she won’t work with St. Louis Police Officers Association business manager Jeff Roorda, who she says “continues to gaslight and spew racism in our police department and in this region.”
  • First 100 days: Closing the north St. Louis jail, known as the Workhouse, and ensuring the safety of inmates held at the downtown Criminal Justice Center are two items topping Jones’ to-do list. She says she would also make personnel changes in city departments “to show the office is moving in a new direction.”

More coverage:

earnings tax illustration.jpg
Nat Thomas
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis voters will be asked Tuesday whether they support retaining the city's 1% earnings tax, which officials say is critical to supporting public services.

Prop E: Earnings tax

Proposition E appears on the ballot every five years, asking voters to decide whether to retain the 1% earnings tax that applies to people who live or work in the city. The tax brings in about $240 million a year to the city’s general revenue fund and covers more than a third of the city’s budget. The money pays for public services like police, fire, streets, parks and trash collection.

Without that tax revenue, the city’s property and real estate taxes would “skyrocket,” said St. Louis Collector of Revenue Gregory F.X. Daly, who has contributed $50,000 to a campaign to educate voters on how the tax supporters city services.

If Prop E is voted down, that would trigger a plan to phase out the tax over the next decade.

Read more:

Project Clear
Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District
Contractors hired by the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District work inside the Deer Creek Tunnel, one of the biggest under Project Clear. The utility is looking for permission to sell $500 million in bonds to fund more Project Clear work, which is required by a 2012 Clean Water Act settlement.

Prop Y

Proposition Y asks voters to give the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District permission to borrow $500 million to improve its wastewater service. A 2012 settlement over Clean Water Act violations requires the utility to make billions of dollars' worth of upgrades to its system by 2039.

If Proposition Y is approved: MSD will sell bonds for a portion of those upgrades, keeping monthly rates lower in the near term: from the current $56.40 to $62.59 by 2024.

If Proposition Y fails: Rates will go up quicker to cover the cost. Rates would be $86.12 in 2024 and, according to a chart by MSD, could rise above $100 a month in 2035. But around 2036, the rates without borrowing would drop much faster than the rates with borrowing.

MSD is not taking a position on Proposition Y — it will have to do the work regardless.

Read more: St. Louis Region’s Sewer Utility Looks To Sell Bonds For Service Improvements

MSD charter changes

Proposition 1: Removes a number of outdated references and titles and adds several protected classes, including sexual orientation and disability.

Proposition 2: Removes in certain instances the requirement on the utility’s six-member oversight board that at least two trustees from the city and two trustees from the county vote in the affirmative to pass legislation. If Prop 2 passes, the four yes votes needed could come from anywhere.

Proposition 3: Gives the commission that sets MSD’s rates more time to complete its work and changes the criteria the commission must consider when setting those rates.

Proposition 4: Boosts the compensation of members of the Board of Trustees to $600 a year. Trustees are currently paid $300 a year.

Proposition 5: Allows the same firm to sign a contract with MSD to do external audits for more than five years in a row, as long as the lead audit partner changes. As written, MSD’s charter requires the utility to select a new firm every five years, even if it may not be the lowest bidder.

Brian Heffernan is the digital editor and special projects editor at St. Louis Public Radio.

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