Voters approve Proposition A as student turnout strong

| Enterprise Editor
Matt Mitgang | Student Life

Students celebrate the passage of Proposition A in the DUC.

St. Louis County voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition A, a sales tax measure for Metro, with substantial student support on Tuesday, sending supporters gathered at Washington University into celebration and paving the way for the expansion of transit service in the St. Louis region.

“It’s a blowout,” said Rose Windmiller, the director of state relations and local government affairs at Washington University and a Prop A supporter, after students started a chant of “Metro! Metro! Metro!” in the background. “It feels tremendous.”

The final vote was 62.9 percent “yes” to 37.1 percent “no.” With 84.8 percent of the vote counted by 10 p.m., the “yes” vote was 62.2 percent and the “no” vote was 37.8 percent, meaning a margin that supporters and opponents acknowledged was insurmountable with just 15 percent of precincts having not reported.

More than 100 supporters who were gathered in the Danforth University Center’s Tisch Commons for an election watch party embraced and broke out into cheering as Chancellor Mark Wrighton, Chesterfield Mayor John Nations and Citizens for Modern Transit Executive Director Tom Shrout took the podium just after 10 p.m. The three hailed the proposition’s passage as a victory for the St. Louis region’s residents, students and businesses and not for candidates or parties.

“We win,” Wrighton said to thunderous applause. “St. Louis has made an investment in its future. We will all be rewarded.”

Prop A will raise the St. Louis County sales tax by 0.5 percent and trigger a 0.25 percent tax in the city, raising nearly $80 million a year for future light-rail expansion and for restoring the service that Metro cut on March 30, 2009.

The outcome represented a hard-fought, long-sought victory for supporters, after similar tax proposals failed in 1997 and 2008. And students and administrators, who were elated and exhausted after several days of mobilization efforts, said the measure’s passage means students, faculty and workers at the University will be better connected to the region.

“This is an opportunity for Wash. U. to continue its strong connections to the community, to really connect with St. Louis and to grow as an institution,” said Liz Kramer, an administrative fellow who spearheaded the student-led pro-Prop A campaign.

A small group of opponents gathered at Caldwell’s on the Plaza in Frontenac. St. Louis Tea Party leader Gina Loudon, the wife of former state Sen. John Loudon, R-Chesterfield, said opponents “were tremendously disappointed, but I’m not altogether surprised.” She added that the opposition had already started discussing how to make sure that Metro was accountable to the public, amid their concerns that Metro did not have a concrete plan for the tax money.

Metro CEO Bob Baer pledged accountability, saying the victory was a vote of confidence by the public. “We promise and pledge public accountability, transparency and the provision of the best service we can possibly provide,” Baer said.

With the future of public transit and sales taxes in the region on the line, both supporters and opponents were nervous and optimistic while they waited for results. But as precincts started reporting and the “yes” vote far exceeded the “no” vote, supporters grew more optimistic and opponents realized they faced overwhelming odds.

Tuesday’s turnout was 22 percent, two percentage points higher than what county officials predicted. Kramer said Tuesday afternoon that the Westgate polling place was empty, but other student volunteers reported a steady stream of student voters at polling places on and near campus.

Turnout in other parts of St. Louis County was described as light, especially in West and South counties. In a early positive sign for Prop A supporters, turnout in South County, whose voters likely lean toward “no,” was described as very light by multiple campaign leaders on both sides. But supporters said they needed substantial turnout in North County and Mid County and at Washington University and other schools to have a good chance of passage.

Students and administrators leading pro-Prop A efforts worked feverishly Tuesday to turn out as many students as possible before polls closed at 7 p.m. Meanwhile, the cash-starved local opposition called and e-mailed supporters and tried to gain as much media exposure as possible.

Campus transit advocates’ efforts and the administration’s efforts made up one facet of the broader push by regional Prop A supporters. The Advance St. Louis campaign, though not officially affiliated with the student-run efforts, spent close to $1 million, thanks in part to $75,000 in contributions from the University. Local organizations conducted their own turnout efforts as well.

  • Boomer

    “…establishing a perpetual tax burden on the area’s workers, while incurring no burden to themselves?”

    To be accurate, it isn’t an income tax. It’s a sales tax. So ANYONE (students, tourists, residents, other county residents, businesses) who purchases goods in St. Louis County, will add .005% to their purchase so that the region can enjoy a transportation system that encourages economic growth, is more beneficial to the environment, and helps to reduce oil dependency.

    And hopefully, the growth of a strong, viable public transit system will encourage students to stay in the region.

  • max

    Also, taxes are not the central issue. The fact that St. Louis has a decently large population, but can’t shuttle me to Creve Coeur is ridiculous.

    Like Brandon said, St. Louis can grow and attact entrepreneus only if it makes a concerted effort to retain intelligent youth.

  • max

    Good work Brandon. What a ridiculous comment provided by Mr. Hoffman.

    What happens when any resident of any city votes, and then eventually, moves away?

  • Leo

    “Saint Louis county will now lose $75 million a year that could have been spent in that area supporting local businesses, starting new businesses, educating one’s children, funding charities, etc.”

    The county is not losing this money. This is not money that the county already has, therefore how could they lose it.

  • iris

    “Prop A does not place the tax burden solely on the area’s workers but also on tourists who shop here and students who buy from any and all off-campus stores.”

    And on-campus stores such as the bookstore and Bear Necessities as well.

  • It sounds like you’ve created a new utopia, Brandon. However, your utopia is supported by a vulgar marxian deterministic economic argument:

    Taxes=growth=more taxes=more growth!

    Unfortunately, the people of the Saint Louis region have witnessed Metro’s epic failure to deliver on its promises, as well as a general failure of political leadership in the city, which has been controlled by Democrats since 1949, and in the public schools, which are controlled by labor unions.

    Saint Louis county will now lose $75 million a year that could have been spent in that area supporting local businesses, starting new businesses, educating one’s children, funding charities, etc., Strange that you only mention the city, when we’re now robbing the county to pay the Metro fare, at a higher rate than the city will have to pay! Fair?

    As someone who grew up in St. Louis, was a student here, and opened a business in the City, I’m disappointed at the naivete, the short-sightedness, and the arrogance of our elected officials, and public figures like Mark Wrighton.

    Perhaps someday all the meddlers, social planners, busybodies, self-appointed policy wonks, and redistributors will realize that St. Louis will revitalize when the private sector is able to operate freely and efficiently. Until then, we will have more pork, more overruns, more graft, and more empty promises.

    Those of us who know how public projects work in St. Louis are laughing…and crying.

  • Brandon

    With a restored and expanded public transit system (and the subsequent economic growth), Saint Louis as a city will be better positioned to retain the tremendous talent that University students offer and more able to turn those “short-term residents” into life-time community members, community members who will in turn bear the tax burden and continually contribute to the betterment of this region! Furthermore, as a sales tax, Prop A does not place the tax burden solely on the area’s workers but also on tourists who shop here and students who buy from any and all off-campus stores.

    There is no ethical dilemma here: the city will benefit from the added population of university students counted on the 2010 census, and these students, as members of this population, have helped to shape the vision of progress and growth for the future of Saint Louis.

  • I wonder how ethical it is for students–who are only short-term residents of our city–to participate in establishing a perpetual tax burden on the area’s workers, while incurring no burden to themselves?