A Big Step Backwards for Municipal Reform in Saint Louis County
Last year, Missouri passed legislation restricting the ability of cities to rely on fines and fees to run their local governments. That legislation, known as SB 5, restricted fines and fees to 20% of general revenue for cities across the state, and to 12.5% of general revenue for cities in Saint Louis County. These provisions tightened restrictions originally put in place in the ‘90s with the Macks Creek law, but, critically, SB 5 included monitoring and enforcement mechanisms the older legislation lacked. Unfortunately, the achievements of SB 5 are now in jeopardy, following the ruling of a Cole County judge.
Many municipal leaders in Saint Louis County are opposed to SB 5, especially those officials from cities who heavily rely on fines (traffic and otherwise) for revenue. They sued the state over SB 5, claiming the provisions limiting Saint Louis County’s municipalities’ ability to collect fines and fees to 12.5% of general revenue constituted a “special law,” because elsewhere in the state the limit is 20%. Despite the fact that laws tailored to individual counties are passed all the time (think the provisions restricting floodplain tax incentives in only Saint Charles County) the judge in this case found SB 5’s fine limits unconstitutional. The judge also ruled that law’s reporting requirements and policing standards were unfunded mandates, and thus also unconstitutional. For all intents and purposes, much of SB 5 is gutted.
This is a disappointing outcome for those hoping that the state’s actions last year might rein in those small cities keeping themselves afloat by turning law enforcement into tax collection. On a hopeful note, the state plans to appeal, and the governor indicated a willingness to work with the legislature on a bill that will pass constitutional muster.