Commentary by: Scott Charton

Back in 1959, Harry Caray was still broadcasting the Cardinals games. And in 1959, the Gateway Arch, the old Busch Memorial Stadium and even the University of Missouri-St. Louis were all unrealized visions for the future.

Things do change.

But one big thing changed in St. Louis since 1959. That’s the last time city residents had an opportunity for a stand-alone vote on the one percent local earnings tax. That’s the tax imposed on people who live and work in the City of St. Louis.

That means anyone who lives or works in St. Louis is forced to pay a third level of income taxes at the local level on top of state and federal taxes. And they haven’t had any direct say about the local earnings tax since 1959. More than half a century later, Proposition A will at long last give St. Louis voters an opportunity to simply authorize a local election on the local earnings tax.

Proposition A – the Let Voters Decide Initiative – is a ballot measure submitted for voter approval in the November 2 General Election.

A “Yes” vote on Prop A does two things:

It requires the politicians to let the local residents in St. Louis and Kansas City have local votes next spring on their local earnings taxes. If the local earnings taxes are renewed by local voters, they would then be able to vote on those taxes every five years. Such sunset votes on local taxes are quite common in Missouri. This means people in St. Louis and Kansas City can decide for themselves whether to continue the local earnings tax in their city or gradually phase it out over a period of ten years.

And, Prop A prohibits the politicians from creating any new local earnings taxes in Missouri. That’s important in these tough economic times. For many Missouri families, the earnings tax collected each year for living, or working, in St. Louis and Kansas City, adds up to a mortgage payment, maybe a couple of car payments or books and clothes for school.

More than 210,000 Missourians signed the petition to put Prop A on the ballot. This is because they want a chance to finally vote on local earnings taxes. In St. Louis, such a local vote is long overdue. But self-interested politicians and bureaucrats seem to fear having to justify keeping the tax to the very people who pay it, and who have not had a say about the tax in more than half a century.

No one will argue that the earnings tax attracts new residents and businesses to Missouri’s largest cities – because, in fact, only 25 of the 150 largest cities in the United States impose local earnings taxes. And, in fact, both St. Louis and Kansas City have given certain companies breaks from paying the earnings tax.

One more thing: contrary to what some opponents have said, Prop A does not repeal the earnings taxes in St. Louis and Kansas City. It only allows local voters in the two largest cities to have the final say about their local earnings tax. Our campaign believes that once voters get the facts, they’ll vote YES on A, to let voters decide.

About the Author:  Mr. Scott Charton serves as spokesman for the YES on A Coalition. Mr. Charton was a long-time statehouse journalist and political writer in Missouri, including overseeing legislative coverage of 13 annual sessions of the Missouri General Assembly. He retired from The Associated Press after 23 years as a correspondent, and spent the last three years as Director of Communications for the University of Missouri System. He lives in Columbia, Missouri.