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April ballot will ask city voters to extend earnings tax

CITY HALL – St. Louis once again will ask voters for permission to impose its 1 percent earnings tax for another five years – even as some city leaders question why such a vote is necessary.

The Board of Aldermen approved on Friday a bill calling for the vote on April 6, 2021. Mayor Lyda Krewson’s spokesman said she planned to sign it.

“Mayor Krewson intends to sign the bill because of how important revenue from the earnings tax is to the overall budget and our City’s ability to provide basic essential services that our residents and businesses deserve and expect,” said Jacob Long, Krewson’s director of communications.

A statewide initiative petition approved in 2010, called Proposition A, requires the city to submit the question to voters every five years. Receipts in fiscal year 2019, prior to the COVID-19 epidemic, were more than $184 million, or about 35 percent of the general fund budget.

If voters don’t approve the referendum, the tax will be phased out over 10 years.

Long wouldn’t comment on whether the city should have to ask permission every five years to continue imposing the tax.

“That’s the situation we’re in until such time the law is changed,” Long said.

But during discussion during Friday’s Board of Aldermen webinar meeting, some said having to submit the measure was unfair.

“Understanding that a third of our city budget goes through this, and the outstate and Republican influence that has forced us to continue to vote on this is deeply frustrating,” 8th Ward Alderwoman Annie Rice said.

Annie Rice

Rice said she was grateful for one byproduct of Proposition D, which passed in the Nov. 3 election. That basically requires a nonpartisan first round vote for mayor, comptroller, board of aldermen president and aldermen in March, and a final round on the top vote-getters in April.

“I think we will have significantly more voters coming out in April for those elections, so hopefully that will help again to drum up more support for the passage of the earnings tax,” Rice said. “I will be encouraging my constituents to vote yes.”

First Ward Alderwoman Sharon Tyus disagreed and said that people in her ward were confused and couldn’t understand why she was running as a nonpartisan candidate.

Sharon Tyus

“I have always run as a Democrat. I am a proud Democrat,” she said. “Forcing me to do something that I am not is dishonest to me.”

And, Tyus said to Rice, “The same forces that you criticize about us having to have this election every five years are the same that came back over and over again until they finally got passed to reduce this Board of Aldermen, which is going to be devastating to north St. Louis.”

City voters approved a charter amendment change in 2012 that called for the reduction in the number of wards and aldermen. Starting in April 2022, the board will consist of 14 members plus the president of the board.

Tyus emphasized that she believed the earnings tax was extremely important. But she said she wanted to have exemptions from the tax reduced.

Ward 16 Alderman Tom Oldenberg, the bill’s sponsor, said it was important for aldermen to promote the measure.

“I think it behooves all of us to get out in a responsible way to inform our constituents how critical this revenue is to the public receiving city services,” he said.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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