You heard the sonorous announcer: On Tuesday, April 5th, City voters will have the chance to vote to keep the earnings tax. Based on the trends of recent local elections in St. Louis and across the country, it seems most likely that many St. Louis voters who have that chance will not show up at the polls, either because they think the outcome is not important or that the outcome is not in doubt.
Either case would be unfortunate. The earnings tax is essential to the City of St. Louis and the outcome of the election very much depends on who shows up to vote.
The City currently depends on the earnings tax, which is paid by both City residents and by people who live in the county or in Illinois but work in the City. The 160 million dollars generated by the earnings tax funds a third or more of our day to day municipal expenses. It funds the services that residents expect the City to provide like public safety, street repair, recreation centers, and parks maintenance. And it funds the operations of government on which major employers, small businesses, and visitors depend.
Without the earnings tax, the City would be forced to make massive cuts to all these services at a time when we can ill afford to do so. The City has already faced and is still dealing with - a $46 million dollar budget shortfall for the current budget year. We have created efficiencies in operation, City workers have agreed to take unpaid furlough days, and hundreds of positions jobs have been cut from the budget. Only a last-minute Federal grant has prevented the lay-off of dozens of firefighters.
A loss of an additional one-third of the budget over only a few years would be devastating and would directly affect the quality of life for City residents. And if the City were to lose the earnings tax, it is likely that more regressive taxes in the City would have to go up significantly to continue to fund the needed services.
None of this is to say that collecting the earnings tax is only way to fund government. However, it is the only way to fund government right now.
The outcome of the election is not certain. April municipal elections are very low turnout affairs and are generally decided by the people determined enough to come to vote to make something happen.
I encourage you to tell your friends and neighbors in the City of St. Louis to vote on Tuesday, April 5th. Polls will be open until 7pm. Its important for our city.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Jeff Rainford is the chief of staff for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.