WU support of Prop A shows school’s callousness toward the poor

John Burns | Op-Ed Submission

Washington University is a prosperous school. It boasts a multi-billion (with a ‘B’) dollar endowment, hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants, wealthy patrons—nay, Captains of Industry—and its faculty, staff and students are among the brightest—and wealthiest—in the nation.

So why is it that Wash. U. students and faculty pay $250 less for MetroLink than disabled riders? Students pay roughly 35 bucks per semester for the use of public transportation, and faculty pay 102 bucks per year. On a yearly basis these figures are rather similar. The disabled pay $360 per year for a MetroLink pass. The regular yearly pass costs approximately $720, and the non-Wash. U. regular student yearly pass costs approximately $250.

Why does Wash. U. receive a $9.3 million price cut the use of on public transportation? That’s roughly $11.5 million in public transportation services for a mere $2.2 million payment. So, if you’re a student or faculty member, the taxpayers are subsidizing your ride. Chancellor Wrighton, featured in a pro-Metro tax commercial aired during the recent Winter Olympics, was being honest and accurate when he explained that Wash. U. receives a lot of benefit from MetroLink. And Wash. U. donated $25,000 to the pro-Prop A campaign because Wash. U. is a special interest that stands to benefit if Metro expands; albeit on the backs of St. Louis County—and City—tax payers. Oh yes, St. Louis City sales taxes are set to rise if Prop A is passed. It’s an odd situation, but the City’s sales tax regarding Metro transit is pegged to the County’s in the event of a sales tax increase. Sales tax in the City would rise to roughly 10 percent.

I say all of this not to attack Wash. U., but merely to demonstrate a point: Washington University is callous toward the poor and the middle class in St. Louis.

Is Wash. U.'s support of Prop A callous towards the poor and middle class?

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How else is one supposed to view Chancellor Mark Wrighton’s unabashed support of the proposed Proposition A “Metro Tax”? Far from being a progressive public transportation expansion, Prop A is a regressive sales tax that will hit all taxpayers and hurt poorer taxpayers in a disproportionate manner.

While Wash. U. wins if more MetroLink stations get built, making it easier for students to cheaply move about, the poor suffer. It has been a repeated pattern that as MetroLink expands, Metro spends more than it takes in, and bus lines are cut as a result. Buses are critical to the transportation needs of the poor. Buses are flexible. Buses come to where we live, into our neighborhoods. MetroLink is rigid, prohibitively expensive, cannibalizes bus funds and takes a minimum of five years to build—and that’s just for one route. MetroLink costs $60 million per MILE (unless Metro mismanages the construction like they did last time, then it’s close to $100 million per mile), while Bus Rapid Transit costs $30 million per ROUTE, and a normal bus costs a little over $250 thousand, with the federal government footing 80 percent of the bus cost.

Metro is secretive and operated by a cabal of elected and unelected officials. Tax payers are kept in the dark about Metro’s ultimate plans. Voters have no say in what MetroLink lines get built, or where, or what Metro budget allocation priorities will be.

Metro panders to special interests other than Washington University. Also set to win big if the tax passes are bond sellers like Edward Jones (a.k.a., the local government credit card), and campaign contributors of the political elite spearheading the pro-tax campaign, such as Charlie Dooley (St. Louis County Executive) and John Nations (Mayor of Chesterfield). Lots of pigs are at the trough, and it’s worth mentioning that the FBI is investigating Dooley and several of his friends for possibly illegally awarding contracts. The County is the principal revenue source for Metro.

Point is, we’re in a recession and the poor and middle class in St. Louis City and St. Louis County will be forced to blindly pay into a mismanaged system for a light-rail system they don’t use and don’t need. Washington University, as wealthy as it is, collects all of the benefits and none of the liabilities of a Metro Tax increase. Washington University and Chancellor Wrighton’s support for the tax is inexcusably self-serving to the detriment of the poor. If he thinks he can defend himself, I challenge the Chancellor to debate me on Prop A. Any time, any place, provided open attendance by the public, press, and a mutually agreed upon moderator.

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.

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