Crime Concerns Spur St. Louis Sales Tax Hike

Published April 1, 2008

Voters in St. Louis have approved a half-cent sales tax increase to fund firefighter and police pensions and place more police officers on the streets.

Proposition S appeared on the February 5 ballot and won approval despite opposition from several local taxpayer groups. The sales tax increase is projected to bring in about $18 million a year.

Critics were surprised by the outcome, as Proposition S had come under fire from many groups and individuals.

Among the loudest complaints were from people who argued currently available public funding that could be used for pensions and police is being diverted to pay for the St. Louis Cardinals’ new baseball stadium, which opened in 2006. The Cardinals also received a $20 million property tax abatement and a waiver of about $6 million per year in taxes on stadium admissions.

Most Violent City

In 2006, Morgan Quitno Press, a private research and publishing company specializing in comparing states and cities in several subject areas, ranked St. Louis as the most violent city in the country. Concerns about the city’s high rate of violent crime apparently trumped the criticisms of wasteful and misguided spending.

That concern was summed up the day after the vote by St. Louis resident John Stout, who told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “I think they need more officers” in the district that covers his neighborhood. “They don’t even have enough help to patrol the streets.”

More Cops Not Guaranteed

But Tom Sullivan of the Coalition Against Public Funding of Stadiums, a group that opposed the St. Louis Cardinals subsidies and the sales tax hike, pointed out in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial, “there is no guarantee of more police officers or pay hikes. It could all go for pensions.”

Supporters of the tax increase made no mention of looking at ways to change from the current defined benefit pension program to a defined contribution plan like a 401(k) to avoid future funding shortfalls.

Despite the bulk of the tax increase going to the police department, there was no official endorsement of the ballot measure from the St Louis Police Officers Association.

Aaron Hilmer ([email protected]) is chairman of the Mehlville Fire Protection District in St. Louis County, Missouri.