Proposition 1 Raises Property Tax for Questionable Purposes
On August 4th, Saint Louis City residents will be asked to vote for a property tax increase (17 cents per 100 dollars of assessed valuation) to raise $180 million for various “improvement” projects around the city. The plan has had little publicity, and many have questioned both the need and appropriateness of the tax increase.
So where would the $180 million go? The short answer is that about two-thirds of the money would go to public safety departments (mostly fire), city-owned buildings and vehicles, and city streets. Most of the rest would go to preparing a site for the NGA, building demolition, and a “ward capital improvement fund.”
Beyond the broad categories, it is difficult to know exactly how the money would be spent. However, the city did outline a large capital improvement wish-list in 2014, much of which would likely be funded through this property tax increase.
With such a diverse set of projects, residents might want to ask a few questions to gauge this tax proposal’s appropriateness:
- The city already spends a significant amount on public safety, about $365 million in 2014 alone. That’s more than a thousand dollars per resident per year. And spending has not been falling; the city’s public safety spending increased more than 22% from 2008 to 2014. Do these departments really have a revenue problem, or are they not making good use of the money they have?
- Approximately $15 million would go to preparing an NGA site (listed creatively as “Economic Development” in most ballot rundowns). How much, if any, of that money will be spent buying back land that developer Paul McKee bought from the city and private owners (using state subsides) just a few years ago?
- What is the purpose of the ward improvement fund, especially when the city already has a ½ cent sales tax devoted to the same purpose? Who will decide how those funds are spent?
Perhaps there are satisfactory answers to all of these questions and the city truly needs higher tax levels to fund basic city services. However, given the city’s current level of spending and its push to spend tens of millions on yet another downtown stadium, the real problem may be where the money is already going.