Friday, April 01, 2011

Prop E Highlights Need for New Missouri Compromise

When Missouri entered the union, it was under the Missouri Compromise, whereby Missouri was admitted as a slave state and Maine was admitted as a free state.

Before the Civil War, Missouri wanted to keep slavery, but wanted to remain in the Union. During the Civil War, the governor of Missouri took control of the police department. After the Civil War, the city slowly expanded its boundaries in a westerly direction.

In 1876, St. Louis voted to separate itself from St. Louis County. By 1940, the city, for all intents and purposes, was built out. Between 1950 and 1960, its population peaked at about 850,000.

Since 1960, the city's population has dropped by over 50%, while suburban growth stretched out across Missouri and Illinois, putting St. Louis city at the center of the region.

Today, a little over 1/10 of the regional population lives in the city proper, but many of our regions 2.8 million or so residents think of themselves as St. Louisans. There's a general sense that everyone in the region has some stake in the city, but only a tiny percentage get a vote in the future of what happens here.

Next week, that idea of regionalism will be put to the test. Lots of people are advocating for a "Yes Vote on Prop E", the proposition to retain the city's earnings tax, but only a handful of voters will decide the issue.

The St. Louis Business Journal has come out in favor of Prop E, but in their editorial they state that most of their employees don't live in the city, so they have no vote. They work here, so for now, they pay the earnings tax. In its editorial, The Business Journal warns that if the earnings tax is defeated, they would for the first time be forced to consider moving out of the city - for the health and safety of their employees.

Many are making dire predictions about huge cuts in city services - including cuts to fire and police protection - if the earnings tax is defeated. At the same time massive increases in other taxes, such as sales taxes and real estate taxes, are predicted to follow. It's the sort of one-two punch in the civic gut that could potentially bring the city to its knees. The predictions are not much of a stretch when you consider that 1/3 of the city's budget is funded by the earnings tax.

While Prop E will decide the future of the earnings tax, at the same time, the legislature in Jeff City is debating local control of the city police department. A 150 year old debate about how St. Louisans should be governed continues to this day. While Jeff City debates returning local control of the police department to St. Louis, the region is debating how St. Louis should be governed via its tax structure.

As it was when the city divorced from St. Louis County, a very close vote at the time, so it will be in 2011 when a tiny number of individual voters will have a say in a matter of major regional significance for the future of all St. Louisans.

Out of curiosity, does anyone know if the St. Louis Police Officer's Association has taken a position on Prop E? There is some irony here, because a few years ago the state controlled board of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department significantly reduced the residency requirement for city police officers. So today, like many employees of the St. Louis Business Journal, large numbers of city police officers are not eligible to vote in city elections.

Maybe it's time for a new Missouri Compromise, but this time, make it the St. Louis Compromise, one that creates a sustainable, equitable tax structure for the city of St. Louis as the center of the St. Louis region. Compromises work when there are mutual interests at stake. Under our current system, there are many mutual interests, but our ability to reach a compromise, is, well, seriously compromised.

Too many people have a vested interest in the city of St. Louis with no voice in the outcome of local elections. It's hard to make good decisions about government when there is such a high percentage of our citizens ineligible to participate in the most important decisions.

1 comment:

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