This article is 5 years old. It was published on February 3, 2017.
ST. LOUIS - Mayor Francis Slay and the Board of Aldermen are asking City voters to approve a 1/2 Cent Economic Development Sales Tax that would generate approximately $20 million annually to invest in the people and places of the City of St. Louis.
As approved by the Board of Aldermen and in conjunction with bill sponsor Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia (6th Ward), Mayor Slay is proposing a comprehensive approach that focuses investments on making St. Louis safer, more prosperous and more equitable.
On April 4, 2017, City voters will be asked the following ballot question:
Shall the City of St. Louis impose a sales tax at a rate of one half of one percent for economic development purposes including (1) North/South MetroLink, (2) neighborhood revitalization, (3) workforce development, (4) public safety, and (5) to upgrade the City's infrastructure, with annual public audits?
Sixty (60) percent of the revenue generated by the 1/2 Cent Economic Development Sales Tax will be dedicated to expanding light rail. Its full economic development potential will be harnessed by a strategy that includes innovative approaches to neighborhood and workforce development, as well as investments in public safety and infrastructure, which accounts for the remaining 40 percent of the Sales Tax revenue. The goals are both to give underserved people a hand up to a career and upward mobility and to address the root causes of crime.
The new funding stream created by the new Sales Tax will allow the City to effectively compete for federal transit dollars. Together, these local and federal sources could fund a $700 Million Phase I light rail project, which could extend nearly nine miles and begin operations in less than 10 years.
While the study currently underway will ultimately determine the precise route, the line must combine density, need, and opportunity. South St. Louis has the region's densest communities;North St. Louis includes the region's neighborhoods most challenged by limited access to transportation;and, it will soon be home to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which represents the single greatest development opportunity in the City's history.
"We have a moral and economic imperative act," Mayor Slay said. "The North/South line will help connect marginalized communities to economic growth, grow regional productivity, deconcentrate poverty, promote healthy living, create vibrant and accessible public spaces, and catalyze development in struggling neighborhoods."
Sales Tax revenues will be used to develop neighborhoods through targeted, place-based investment that is directed by the community itself. When residents identify the challenges they face, and propose solutions custom built for their neighborhood, outcomes are measurably better. Inspired by HUD's Choice Neighborhood program, the City will replicate its success by dedicating money to one neighborhood each year to concentrate the program's impact and ensure that the funds serve to catalyze real change.
The St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE) must rely on federal grant funding that requires SLATE to prove that it only serves "job-ready" individuals. As a result, more than half of the people who come to SLATE seeking assistance are turned away from job training programs because they're simply not "job-ready."
We need them to be.
"We need skilled laborers to build the new NGA, City Foundry, and the 36-story apartment building overlooking Forest Park. We need STEM career paths to fill jobs in Cortex and our health care industry. We need IT professionals to fill the growing demand here in our city," Mayor Slay said. "And, we need the flexibility to serve people who need the basic skills and training to be ready for these jobs or to create their own through new businesses."
Revenues from the economic development sales tax will allow SLATE to expand successful programs and hire outreach coordinators to embed in our neighborhoods.It will also create a Youth Empowerment portfolio, which awards funds on a competitive basis for summer youth employment, recreation programs, scholarship programs and other educational supports for City youth pursuing vocational, technical, and secondary education.
These initiatives will be most successful if everyone in our City has a safe and secure environment to live, work and play. That's why the sales tax also includes funding for public safety. These revenues will serve as a dedicated funding stream that allows the City to invest further in public safety infrastructure, which could include expanding our camera network and Real Time Crime Center.
As part of this sales tax, voters will also see improved City infrastructure, including better roads and bridges, City building maintenance, vehicles, and equipment. This new revenue stream will allow the City to purchase and repair operational equipment and address the needs of City facilities, as prioritized by the Capital Committee.
Together, these initiatives for North-South MetroLink, neighborhood and workforce development, and public safety and infrastructure will help grow existing momentum in the central corridor to neighborhoods north and south.
All of this has one last benefit. If voters approve the Sales Tax, it will trigger a correlating increase in the Use Tax, which is paid by businesses buying goods outside the state of Missouri. Voters will be asked whether the City should use the projected $4 million in new revenue to complement a multi-million dollar private investment to build a new multi-use stadium that would also house a Major League Soccer team.
The ballot question reads as follows:
Shall the use tax paid by businesses on out-of-state purchases and derived from the one half of one percent increased use tax, which corresponds to approval and levy of an Economic Development Sales Tax in the City of St. Louis, be used for the purposes of minority job training and business development programs, and a portion of construction costs, but not construction cost overruns, of a multipurpose stadium for soccer, local amateur sports, concerts and community events? A use tax is the equivalent of a sales tax on purchases from out-of-state sellers by in-state buyers and on certain taxable business transactions for which a sales tax is not levied. No taxpayer is subject to a sales tax and a use tax on the same transaction. The City shall be required to make available to the public an audited comprehensive financial report detailing the management and use of the portion of the funds each year.
The Sales Tax must pass in order for the Use Tax to pass, but for the stadium to be built, voters must approve dedicating the new Use Tax revenues to helping to fund the stadium, and the MLS must commit to an expansion team for the City of St. Louis.
With the Board of Aldermen and the MLS ownership group SC STL, the City has put together a financing structure that insulates the City's general fund from risk, because the bulk of the project cost is paid for by private investors.
The SC STL team has committed to paying for any cost overruns, and agreed to sign a 30-year lease with a no-relocation clause. Aside from generating significant tax revenues, the new multi-use stadium will help redevelop a large tract of land and create an extraordinary entertainment corridor along Market Street, including Busch Stadium, the Scottrade Center, and a multi-use soccer stadium.
"We have a lot of momentum on which to capitalize," Mayor Slay said. "When I took office there were more than 150 vacant buildings Downtown. Today there are fewer than two dozen, and several more are coming online this year.
"We are creating a City with vibrant neighborhoods, a dynamic economy where entrepreneurs with big ideas are not afraid to fail before they succeed. We have an exploding central corridor that is home to two successful innovation districts, a nationally-recognized arts, music and cultural scene, the best urban park in America, world-class medical centers, and two of the best universities in the country.
"We must build on those strengths, and ensure that this growth reaches more people.
We have a moral and economic imperative to act, and I hope
you will join me by voting for the Economic Development Sales Tax and to bring
soccer to St. Louis."
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