Shameless

| Staff Columnist

In St. Louis County’s next election, a proposition will be on the ballot to impose a half-cent sales tax increase to fund expanded Metro services across the St. Louis area. Many members of the Washington University community have voiced strong support for this proposition and involved themselves in the effort to ensure its passage. Yet no one seems to acknowledge Prop A for what it is—an unbridled exploitation of St. Louis’ poor and working-class families. The fact that so many self-proclaimed liberal students are willing to use the force of government to provide for their transit on the backs of the poor is the epitome of hypocrisy.

A sales tax is a regressive tax. A regressive tax is the opposite of a progressive tax, like the U.S. income tax, which increases the tax burden as your income rises. The burden of regressive taxation falls most heavily on those with low-income and fixed budgets. Because the poor use a much higher portion of their income to fund their daily consumption, a much larger part of their earnings must be dedicated to any tax on consumption.

The argument is often made that the majority of St. Louis’ poor live in the city. This proposition imposes the sales tax only on the county, where the people are much wealthier. Those who make this argument are either ignorant or intentionally trying to mislead. Back in 1997, the city of St. Louis passed a sales tax increase to fund Metro, the deal being that if the county were ever to pass a similar tax, the city tax would be triggered. The passage of Prop A would trigger this tax in the city, and the poor would be forced to donate even more to the light-rail service they largely do not use.

The light-rail service, which Metro intends to expand with its new profits, is plagued by a whole host of special interest groups that use their power and influence to ensure that the rail service is provided to their stomping grounds. When light rail is installed, chancellors of powerful, wealthy universities can ensure that costly Metro stops are placed right outside their institutions. Light rail rarely goes to the places where the poor live and work. Consequently, the poor are largely dependent on the more-flexible bus service, which is often cut whenever light rail is expanded.

Many students at Wash. U. seem to support the expansion of light rail for environmental reasons. If they feel that strongly about the need to save the planet through Metro, I am sure they would be willing to sacrifice the obscene discount they receive on their Metro passes. If the Washington University community would pay the full price for the Metro services they use, Metro would bring in an additional $9.3 million yearly. Instead, Wash. U. only pays roughly 20 percent of the cost of a yearly Metro pass while simultaneously demanding that the poor make up the difference. That means a Wash. U. student pays $250 less for his yearly Metro pass than a disabled person. Low-hanging fruits such as Wash. U.’s discount should be addressed before we make demands on the poor.

According to the U.S. Census, of the roughly 1 million people who live in St. Louis County, only 10,000 actually use public transit. With the $160 million that would be brought in annually from the county to fund the Metro ($80 million in current revenue plus an increase of $80 million after Prop A), we could afford to buy all of the county’s public transit users a new car every year. The idea that such a small number of commuters should be allowed to benefit at such a high cost to everyone else is nothing short of highway robbery.

Milton Friedman once said, “There’s nothing more permanent than a temporary government program.” If Prop A is allowed to pass, St. Louis citizens can expect Metro to be back asking for more in no time. Metro’s unfunded liabilities, a result of Cadillac pension plans, are enormously high. Its ultimate expansion desires are overly ambitious and incapable of being supported by St. Louis’ population density.

Washington University students should stop drinking Chancellor Mark Wrighton’s Kool-Aid and wake up to the fact that plundering the poor is an unjust way to get to and from school. If expanded Metro services are desired, Wash. U. can afford to contribute a little more before demanding that the taxpayers subsidize the transit. Until then, all of Washington University’s supposed “social justice” initiatives should be viewed with a skeptical eye. Helping the poor is a lot more difficult than giving up tomatoes.

Philip is a sophomore in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at pjchrist@wustl.edu.

  • Philip Christofanelli

    I don’t know, Caitlin. This game seems fun. Maybe Adam can find someone who is paying me. Poor John is getting attacked for being a “paid spokesperson” of a group which has no money to pay anyone. Unfortunately, CBT doesn’t have major corporate donors like healthcare institutions, universities, and bonds salesmen. Nor are they able to pay Metro workers to blog for them.

    And you know, those loaded Show-me institute folks have a major interest in stopping Metro Transit. I hear the new Metro line would go right through their office. Not really, though. Their only interest is philosophical and practical, which I don’t believe compromises their opinions.

    I really wish someone would pay me for this stuff though. I could use some extra cash, especially considering what my sales tax will be if Prop A passes.

    By the way, Adam, you wouldn’t happen to be a devout socialist and Washu employee who uses his position to push his agenda through student groups would you? Just a guess, but if so, perhaps you should reveal that conflict of interest before posting, as you have asked the rest of us to do.

  • Caitlin

    Great article, Phil, as usual! WashU should put its money where its mouthpieces are. At any rate, they could stop further construction on campus to allocate more to the Metrolink if that’s what they really want (not that I think it would be a wise investment for WashU or St. Louis.)

    Adam, it’s ironic that you excuse Adella and Courtney for taking time off of their Metrolink jobs to blog for Prop A, but when a student who happens to intern at a free-market think tank takes time out of her day (NOT while she’s at work) to give the counterpoint, you lambaste her. I applaud your consistency!

    I promise you that my job and my coworkers’ jobs are not on the line whether this horrible allocation of funds passes or not. I’m not so sure Adella and Courtney can say the same thing. My comments, like Phil’s and John’s, come solely from a belief that this proposition will hurt the poor of St. Louis and put the transit system in an even worse situation than it already is. It may be hard for you to believe, but people like us–who have read the research and looked into the facts– don’t have to be paid to make valid counterpoints.

    Ad hominem attacks about the authors not being students, being “paid” to make points, or writing a similar article at the same time as someone else, show a lack of substantial points and only detract from whatever point it is you are trying to make.

  • Adam

    Porter, I responded to Malik on a different post, but I’m happy to do it again. The issue I was raising was the disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. John Burns was previously not identified in the online article as a spokesperson for an anti-public transit group. I complained about that and StudLife corrected it.

    On the other hand, Courtney and Adella have identified themselves as employees, so the same issue is not present. Also, it’s ridiculous for you to suggest that they’re “using taxpayer money” to lobby for Proposition A. Adella is taking a leave of absence to work on this campaign. Courtney does not lobby for Prop A as an employee of Metro. In the comment Malik was complaining about, Courtney was correcting information about Metro.

  • Porter

    Adam,

    And also there is still no response from you, to Malik’s March 3rd post.

    Presumably, you’re OK with public employees being paid to propagandize and advocate for ballot issues on public money.

    Presumably you’re OK with a host of public employees stalking the internet for Prop A articles and directly advocating and supporting ballot issues. Did you realize that was against the law? Do you care? My guess: no, you don’t care. So far, all I’ve seen in your posts are character attacks against interns, misleading statements, and outright falsehoods.

    But I noticed you got really quiet there about the public paying for public entities to lobby voters for tax increases for said public entities and the cronies that support the campaigns for said public entities.

    But of course Adam, you would know about that. The left has been doing this for years. Why would you oppose it now?

    What’s the matter Adam? Cat got your tongue?

  • Adam

    Joel, the original online Op-ed from Burns did not identify him as a member of CBT; that has now been corrected.

    Also, I notice that there still has not been a response to the basic point that the same deal utilized by Wash U is available to any institution that buys in bulk. If you’re opposed to the fact that things bought in bulk are cheaper than those bought in small quantities, then you have a lot more serious problems to worry about in the American economy than this ballot initiative!

  • Paddy Murphy

    Poor people ride metros. It is a public service for them. Metros often offer a homeless person easy and cheap shelter in severe weather (cold, rain, snow etc.).

    Atleast you paid attention to your micro professor….

  • http://www.facebook.com/nick.kasoff Nick Kasoff

    Dah Dah, you’re wrong on two points. First, there are plenty of items aside from food for which demand is income inelastic, and which are subject to sales tax. Diapers and toilet paper immediately spring to mind. And second, food IS subject to income tax in Missouri. Food stamp purchases are exempt, but anyone who actually pays for their food does pay sales tax.

    Adam, you’re right that the additional 0.5% doesn’t amount to a ton of money. But the total sales tax bill is getting out of control, and the line has to be drawn somewhere. In much of the city of St. Louis, the rate is at 9.241%. And their taxes will also go up if this passes. In one of the larger poor communities in the county, Berkley, the rate is 8.325%, while parts of Ferguson are at 8.825%. That’s high enough to make a difference in people’s lives, and adding another 1/2% makes it worse.

    Now, for those who care, I am also involved with stoptheprop.com. I am not paid a cent for what I do. And by the way, I’m not “anti-transit” either. I have chosen to live in a walkable, urban inner-ring suburb. I view transit as vital to our community, and oppose efforts to expand light rail to suburban communities where it will not be used, and where it will bleed our transit system to death. In fact, that has already happened with the Cross-County line.

    So if I’m not anti-transit, what do I want? First, since Metro’s customers depends mostly on the bus system, let’s upgrade our 1950s bus system with 21st century technology. Other cities have GPS tracked buses with real-time arrival displays at bus stops and online. Other cities have bus rapid transit, bus routes with limited stops and priority at traffic lights which are much faster than traditional bus routes. These things cost pennies on the dollar compared with light rail. And while they won’t give Metro execs something shiny and new to show off at the next transit convention, they will provide their customers with good service.

    Finally, I must say that tax supporters have a nerve accusing anybody from stoptheprop.com from being here for the money. Tax supporters are running advertisements on television and radio, have billboards around town, and will undoubtedly be doing multiple mailings to push this tax. The pro-tax campaign is being paid for with hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from the construction and financing companies who will make millions from light rail expansion. In addition, Metro has spent a bunch of money on an “informational campaign” that just happened to land right before the election which would bring them a big stack of new money. So in my view, the pro-tax effort is as tainted as can be.

  • Joel

    Adam,
    What is this BS that StudLife never mentions that John Burns isn’t a student. “John Burns
    Citizens for Better Transit
    John is a member of Citizens for Better Transit. For more information, visit the Web site http://www.stoptheprop.com.” This is quoted directly from the article. Or did you actually read it?

  • Malik

    What a joke. This Adam kid gets ticked off because Burns is a spokesman for Citizens for Better Transit. He also accuses Burns of being paid by the Citizens for Better Transit campaign…without offering any proof. Well, metro has paid employees who blog in favor of Prop A.

    Courtney, seen on the comment thread for the article here:

    http://www.studlife.com/news/2010/03/03/wrighton-appears-in-pro-transit-spot-as-election-nears/

    is one of those paid bloggers who stalks the internet for Metro articles and posts propagandic comments in favor of Metro and the Metro tax. My guess is that Adam knows this, but doesn’t care about facts. Here’s the proof of what and who Courtney is:

    http://www.nextstopstl.org/about/blog-team/

    and oh, oh, oh…this just came out today, too.

    All News Editors, Reporters and Producers:

    Beginning today, Monday, March 1, 2010, I will be taking a leave of absence from my day job at Metro, and I will start devoting all my time to the Advance St. Louis, Proposition A Campaign!

    I am very excited about joining an impressive team of grassroots supporters, like Chesterfield Mayor John Nations, Urban League Executive Director James Buford and Washington University Chancellor, Mark Wrighton, who are working toward the Tuesday, April 6 passage of a ½ cent sales tax to support transit stability and growth in St. Louis County.

    Keeping St. Louis newsrooms informed, coordinating media interviews and providing updates from the Advance St. Louis Campaign will be my top priorities. Yes, I am back in my old media coordinator seat. Some things never change!

    I can be contacted at the following phone and e-mail address:

    [email protected]
    314- 917-2027

    The Campaign will officially roll out this week. Advance St. Louis Steering Committee members and Campaign leadership will be available for interviews. Be on the lookout for more information about the roll out later today.

    Thanks,
    Adella D. Jones

    But I’m sure Adam will have a BS explanation for the above.

  • Adam

    Richard, so I’m to understand that you don’t have any way of seeing if two op-eds are basically covering the exact same material? As I stated in my comment, I don’t have any problem with Phillip making whatever argument he would like. But I do question why StudLife published John Burns’ article with the same content without mentioning that Burns is not a student and in fact is a paid spokesperson for an anti-transit group. As far as I can tell, StudLife has not yet done anything to correct that mistake. You might also forgive my thought that Phillips article was recent given the fact that it was presented as a “counterpoint” to an article that was itself intended as a response to Burns by StudLife.

    Just to be clear, here’s the timeline: StudLife publishes op-ed from Burns while failing to acknowledge that he’s a spokesperson for a transit group. Then, when someone responds to Burns article, StudLife immediately publishes a “counterpoint” that same day with basically the same content as Burns original article.

    Finally, I noticed that you completely failed to respond to the point that items bought in bulk cost less. As I stated, the same deal that was available to Wash U would be available to anyone buying a similar number of passes, so this whole argument is based on faulty reasoning. Also worth noting is that fact that a 00.5% sales tax means that someone who spends $40,000 a year would only pay $200 in new sales taxes. The idea that this would hurt the poor is absurd.

  • Richard Jesse Markel

    In response to Adam,

    I’d say that your attack on Phil’s column is unwarranted for two reasons. First, his data and argument is much more extensive in use of statistics and thus more convincing than Burns’ article. Second, although you wouldn’t know this, Phil actually wrote his article over a week ago and long before Burns was printed. I know this having read and commented upon a draft of it.

    While I disagree with our friend Mr. Christofanelli, I have to stand by him and say some of your attacks are unwarranted – almost as unwarranted as PropA.

    ~RJM

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=593555791 Jerome Bauer

    I hope that proposition a for metro restoration and expansion in st louis will not become a referendum on washington university elitism and arrogance, because if it does, we will lose our public transit. I hope instead washu’s support will serve as penance, the first of many penitential acts. It is never too late for redemption!

  • Adam

    Also, see the excellent response to Burn’s article (which provides the arguments that Christofanelli recycles ) here: http://www.studlife.com/forum/2010/03/03/transit-helps-the-poor-and-helps-us-all/ .

  • Adam

    Dah Dah makes a good point. Furthermore, the idea that Wash U. is somehow cheating the system is ridiculous. The reason the average Wash U. employee pays less for Metro passes is the same reason it costs less for Best Buy to purchase a computer than a individual person: they are buying in bulk. The *exact* same deal offered to Wash U. is available to *anyone* who wanted to buy Metro passes for a similar number of people.
    Also worth noting: Christofanelli’s argument is basically a paraphrased version of an article by anti-transit advocate (and non-student) John Burns: http://www.studlife.com/forum/2010/02/26/wu-support-of-prop-a-shows-school’s-callousness-toward-the-poor/ . It’s fine for students to use bad information and misleading arguments, but what’s the point of having a student repeat the exact same talking points that were printed a few days earlier?
    Oh, and by the way, the St. Louis disabled advocacy groups that Christofanelli claims to be worried about have endorsed Proposition A. The disabled and the poor are two of the groups that stand to gain the most from Proposition A, and what’s really “shameless” is that anti-transit advocates claim to be standing up for them when in reality they are trying to dismantle the public transit system people rely on for their basic needs.

  • Dah Dah

    sales tax is only regressive for items on which there is no income elasticity, which is pretty much only food. Since the sales tax does not apply to food, your “tax on the back of the poor” argument is just nonsense since this tax is actually progressive. That is, rich people have a higher percentage of their income that is disposable, which is is what is taxed under this sales tax, so it places a higher burden on them.

    Please build your economics from first principles that are actually agreed on rather than just going with your gut reaction.