Mayor Slay and his inner circle have started beating the drums suggesting that "major changes" need to be made before the next vote on the earnings tax in five years. On Slay's blog, he wrote the following:
His Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford express similar sentiments:In the coming months, we must begin making the changes the economy and the census have been telling us we have to make. Those changes may begin in the city, but they cannot stop there. It is the region that needs to change.What voters did tonight is critical to that task. They gave us five years to get this done. It would have been infinitely more difficult to bring the region together without a good bond rating or a working parks, streets, or fire department.We may celebrate what the city’s votes have given us, but we must understand that it is not a blank check and it will not last forever. When this election comes around again in five years, we must be a very different city and region. I do not expect voters to give us another chance.
Perhaps this is not a big deal, if all they're referring to is simply streamlining services, perhaps even by merging St. Louis City and St. Louis County. However, it sounds like they have much more in mind, and in particular are already planning on how to get rid of the earnings tax 88% of St. Louisans just voted for. Here's Slay's close advisor Richard Callow, in the Post-Dispatch article about the win:
Still, Callow, echoing many public officials, said he didn't think he'd be asked to do the same in five years. "I don't think there's going to be another campaign on this earnings tax," he said.
City officials, he said, have already begun talking about other ways of getting the revenue the tax brings in.
And Mayor Slay made similar comments to the Riverfront Times:
"Today's vote shows that the overwhelming number of St. Louisans thought it was irresponsible to get rid of the earnings tax without a viable way to replace those funds," Slay told Daily RFT. "But does that mean we just forget about the earnings tax after tonight? No. We now have five years to see if we can come up with a better way to tax and fund the city."
To me, it seems bizarre that they're already beating the drums against the earnings tax, considering that the vast majority of residents support it. And, as Callow said to the St. Louis Beacon, it's not like city voters don't understand the significance of the vote:
"City voters are very aware of the earnings tax," said Callow, the man running the Prop E campaign. "They understand how it is spent, they are very worried about the loss of services and about the potential of increasing other taxes to make up for the revenue if the earnings tax is not retained."
If citizens overwhelmingly support the earnings tax, who exactly is Slay looking out for when he pushes changing it?
Interestingly, there was another group that was on-message and ready to start beating the "St. Louis needs massive change in our tax laws" drum immediately after the election. A study released yesterday and paid for by right-wing millionaire Rex Sinquefield, who's donated more than $245,000 to Slay for various campaigns, outlined a "laundry list of unpopular choices" that could be used to replace the earnings tax. It includes such things as increasing the sales tax (which disproportionately punishes people with less income), asking nonprofits to pay more for city services, and forcing city workers to contribute more to their pensions. In other words, it contains a list of things that a right-wing millionaire ideologue might like better than a 1% earnings tax.
I've also found the rhetoric that we need to make these changes "because the census told us so" to be rather strange. It sounds a little like the Shock Doctrine of city politics: all of a sudden we need to push through "free-market" and "business friendly" changes because we had bad census numbers? Does anyone really think that people moved out of the city because they were worried about firefighter pensions being too high? Perhaps some people might move out because of the earnings tax, but is there any trustworthy data to quantify that suggestion? It seems much more likely to me that people moved out of the city because of worries about crime and the school system.
Anyway, if Slay and his group are taking this as an opportunity to streamline government, get rid of waste and corruption, and even merge services with St. Louis County, then I'm all for it. However, if they are going to try to use this to push a false notion that people are opposed to the earnings tax, without any supporting evidence, then I will be extremely skeptical of their intentions. The people spoke out strongly in favor of the earnings tax, and the idea that the past election and census numbers tell us we need to ditch it in favor of regressive measures like an increased sales tax is a complete distortion of reality.
Note: as I finish writing this, I see that Mayor Slay has a new post on his blog asking "what's next?" He suggests that he is committed to speaking to city residents about what they think should be done about crime, education, tax structures, pensions, and mergers:
Over the spring and coming summer months, I plan to continue the conversations with City voters that began in the successful campaign for passage of Proposition E.
I hope that's right, but we shall see.