OPINION: Vote ‘YES on Prop E’ to save city services, union jobs

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By CODY BURLESON
St. Louis Organizer
Missouri Jobs with Justice

Working people throughout St. Louis have a lot at stake when city voters head to the polls on April 6.

Though most attention has, understandably, been focused on the mayoral race, voters will also decide the future of our city’s earnings tax – a decision that will have a direct impact on everyone who works in or for our city, many of whom are union members.

Regardless of how visionary or transformative the next mayor’s vision for our city is, it is clear that no positive vision for our city is possible unless we come together and vote YES on Proposition E to retain our city’s earnings tax.

For decades, our city has relied on the earnings tax revenue, and a failure to renew this funding would be catastrophic for St. Louis residents, our city, region, and the entire state, for decades to come. The earnings tax funds over a third of the city’s budget, and funds nearly all city services; if you care about good union jobs in our city, vote YES on Proposition E. If you believe everyone should pay their fair share, vote YES on E. If you want to keep greedy billionaires from controlling our public resources, vote YES on E.

A QUICK HISTORY OF THE EARNINGS TAX
Our city has relied on our 1% earnings tax, paid by all who live or work in the city, since 1959. This revenue stream is critical for all city workers – first responders, our fire department, trash, recycling and yard waste collection, road maintenance, snow removal, and park maintenance.

It funds services for seniors including senior nutrition, services for homelessness, and more to keep our community running for all of us.

Only income from wages and salaries is subject to the earnings tax. Social Security, disability, and unemployment income all are exempt from the earnings tax.

For a half-century — from 1959 until 2010 — St. Louis City was doing just fine making our own decisions of how to best fund our city’s services and priorities. Unfortunately, in 2010 Rex Sinquefield, an index fund billionaire and mega political donor, funded a scheme that outlaws earnings taxes in Missouri cities that didn’t already have them while forcing St. Louis and Kansas City to vote every five years to retain their earnings taxes. Despite these efforts – and the millions Sinquefield has spent to undermine our earnings tax – St. Louis voters have overwhelmingly voted to keep our city running.

As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board asked back in 2010, when Rex was dumping millions of dollars into his statewide initiative to gut local control and revenue, “Is a multi-million-dollar campaign funded by a wealthy individual — based on economic theory that is questionable at best — good for democracy?”

St. Louis voters continue to answer, “Absolutely not!”

WHAT’S AT STAKE IF WE DO NOT PASS PROPOSITION E?
Losing the revenue from the city’s earnings tax would only benefit Rex Sinquefield and his billionaire cronies – not us. The third of the city budget that came from the earnings tax amounted to $175.8 million in the fiscal year 2020. This is more than the revenue from property taxes, sales taxes, and payroll taxes combined. No city or government can recover from a 37 percent revenue loss quickly – or equitably.

There are few ways to even begin to make up this needed investment. Without the continuation of the earnings tax, numerous city workers will lose their jobs and life-saving benefits that allow them to care for their families. The city would be forced to cut spending across the board; city residents will suffer from devastating service cuts, while city contracts will dry up.

ELIMINATION, PRIVATIZATION OF CITY SERVICES
A future without the city’s earnings tax will mean delayed response times from first responders and cuts to road maintenance, snow and trash removal and recycling services. All city residents will see cuts, elimination, or privatization of services we have come to take for granted.

As was likely the motive of Sinquefield, the elimination of the earnings tax opens wide the door to privatization of our public services – further eliminating quality jobs, while making quality services available only to those who can pay for them privately. Fewer public services are certain to hurt all working families, but will disproportionately hurt Black and brown communities and those who are most vulnerable.

To make up part of the lost revenue, city residents will be forced to pay more than our fair share with increases in property taxes, sales taxes, income taxes, and other revenue generation – and unlike the earnings tax, many of these systems of taxes hit even those who are least able to pay, including the unemployed and those who rely on Social Security.

No matter how city leaders try to address this loss of income, eliminating the earnings tax will devastate the city and entire region for years to come.

WHO SUPPORTS RENEWING THE EARNINGS TAX?
A majority of city residents support renewing the earnings tax because it supports good jobs for public workers with good benefits and pensions. City voters know this revenue is also key to supporting the essential city services that make St. Louis a great place to live.

  • “I support the earnings tax because it funds services for some of our most vulnerable residents, including feeding senior citizens,” says Natashia Pickens, a city resident and president of Communication Workers (CWA) Local 6355. “The earnings tax is the core of our city budget that allows us, union workers, to thrive and support our families – while providing superior care and services for our city.”
  • “The earnings tax supports our neighborhoods and therefore our families – things that have been so much more important during this pandemic, from emptying the dumpsters in the alley behind our house to maintaining the city parks that give our kids room to play,” said Jonathan Danieley, father and city resident. “Our community must come together and renew the earnings tax.”

St. Louisans deserve a future in which we all can thrive. We are looking to the future. Let’s lift the collective voice of St. Louis workers and residents and vote YES on Prop E to renew the Earnings Tax on Tuesday, April 6.

(Cody Burleson is a St. Louis City resident, father, Missouri Jobs with Justice organizer, and a member of the United Media Guild.)

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