Debating the pros, cons of a sales tax hike to fund St. Louis Zoo’s new center | St. Louis Public Radio

Debating the pros, cons of a sales tax hike to fund St. Louis Zoo’s new center

Oct 17, 2018

Earlier this year, the St. Louis Zoo Association bought a 425-acre complex in north St. Louis County through private funding to breed endangered and at-risk animals.

County voters will decide in the Nov. 6 midterm elections whether they will help fund and maintain the St. Louis Zoo’s operations through a 1/8th of one cent sales tax increase. The ballot measure, titled Proposition Z, would also allow free admission to the Conservation and Animal Science Center in Spanish Lake for county residents. The tax would add about 12 cents to a $100 purchase.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh examined both sides of the ballot issue. Joining him to talk about it were St. Louis Zoo CEO Jeffrey Bonner, who supports the bill, and former St. Louis Zoo-Museum District board chair Ben Uchitelle, who opposes it.

Marsh moderated an in-depth debate between the two.

Pro: St. Louis Zoo CEO Jeffrey Bonner wants county residents to vote yes on Prop Z

Bonner’s major points in favor of Prop Z were as follows:

  1. Bonner is opposed to charging admission to the zoo’s Forest Park campus. “Is it something that the people want? It’s your zoo – we just have the extraordinary privilege of taking care of it for you. What we’ve heard loud and clear from our constituents is that you want the zoo to remain affordable.”
  2. “The St. Louis Zoo is 108 years old; it gets to the point when you stop repairing and start replacing … At the same time, we’re worried about the sustainability of our animal collections; we have too many different kinds of animals and not enough of each kind.”
  3. “Those zoos that get substantial tax support still charge an awful lot for people in the tax district and an awful, awful lot for people outside the tax district, and I’m not sure St. Louisans really want that. What sets St. Louis apart … this is the city in the U.S. with the most wonderful world-class, free institutions, and it’s become a destination and it’s a big part of our identity … I don’t think it should be destroyed willy-nilly.”

Con: Ben Uchitelle wants county residents to vote no on Prop Z

Uchitelle’s major points in opposition to Prop Z were as follows:

  1. Uchitelle is in favor of charging an admission fee to the zoo’s main campus. “The sales tax, in my judgment, is the unfairest way of raising funds for the zoo. It’s regressive in the extreme, we’re at a point now where [St. Louis County is] approaching and even exceeding 10 percent [in sales taxes], and [Prop Z] would be on top of that.”
  2. “The ballot measure says very specifically that it can be used for any purpose whatsoever that the zoo decided, not just for the north-county facility.”
  3. “I support the idea of having a facility in St. Louis County, but the way to pay for it is through admission fees, property taxes and through private taxes – and not a sales tax on people who can least afford it.”

Listen for more debate points and details on what the Conservation and Animal Science Center will entail:

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdan and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.