The Democratic Presidential Primary attracted attention and activism last month. But it’s important to remember that our city has another important election on April 5th. The main issue on the ballot is the reauthorization of the St. Louis City Earnings Tax (Proposition E).
The Earnings Tax is nothing new. Local voters established it back in 1948 to pay for critical public services in our city. Eleven years later, the tax increased to its current 1% rate, and has remained there since. For decades, the tax helped fund basic services like fire protection without controversy.
That is, until a group of outside special interests funded a ballot proposition in 2010 to require St. Louis and Kansas City voters to continually reauthorize the tax. Here in St. Louis, voters rejected that proposal by more than a 2-to-1 margin. Despite this vehement opposition, voters in other parts of Missouri decided they knew how to run our local government better than we did and passed the law over our objections.
So now, we must reauthorize this vital source of our city’s resources every five years. Fortunately, local voters have repeatedly demonstrated overwhelming support for the earnings tax. In fact, 88% voted to keep it in 2011. And for good reason: the tax provides one-third of our city’s budget (about $160 million in 2015). This is more than the entire annual allocation for our police department!
Every single dime of the earnings tax stays right here in our neighborhoods. This is our money. But special interests continue to attack our ability to spend it. These outsiders push misinformation and cloud the issue. Let’s be clear:
Proposition E is not a tax increase. If it passes, everyone will pay the same percentage that they do right now.
Proposition E does not hurt the working poor. In fact, phasing it out and replacing it with a sales tax would make local tax code more regressive, not less.
Proposition E funds don’t just benefit one small area or part of the city. The money from the tax is put into the general revenue fund. It’s earmarked for public safety, infrastructure, and the other essential services that make our city run on a daily basis.
Outside of billionaires and rightwing extremists, support for this earnings tax is virtually universal. Organizations throughout the state have voiced their support for the earnings tax. In fact, earlier this year firefighters, teachers, railroads, police officers, civic organizations, and representatives from both regional Chambers of Commerce all testified against a similar bill at the Capitol that would prevent cities from levying earnings taxes.
Losing the earnings tax would wreak havoc on the City of St. Louis. It would force drastic cuts to police, firefighters, infrastructure, and other essential services, and huge increases in our property and sales taxes. Repealing the Earnings Tax is unnecessary, unwarranted and unwanted. Proponents of the tax often say things like, “We should run government like a business.” Well, no business could afford to unilaterally slash its revenues by one third –and neither can our city.
St. Louis is the economic engine that drives the state, and the region, on both sides of the river. We must keep that engine going. And to do that, we must keep the earnings tax. I urge you to join me in voting YES on Proposition E on April 5th.