Wrighton urges WU community to vote for Prop A

| Copy Chief

Chancellor Mark Wrighton on Monday called on community members to turn out for the April St. Louis County election to vote in favor of a sales tax for funding Metro, as Washington University continued efforts to mobilize the community around the measure.

In an e-mail to the school community, Wrighton sought to remind the community of its reliance on Metro and the benefits of transit to the region, while warning that the failure of the measure, Proposition A, would lead to a nearly 50 percent reduction in transit service. He cited the nearly 2.3 million times that community members used Metro last year, and the U-Pass program, which gives most students and employees free Metro access.

“These numbers clearly indicate the commitment of the Washington University community to public transit and reflect the vital importance of Proposition A to our students, faculty and staff as well as the St. Louis region,” Wrighton wrote.

Proposition A would increase the St. Louis County sales tax by half a cent, and trigger a quarter-cent tax that was passed in the city of St. Louis in 1997. Supporters say it would raise about $80 million per year for Metro, enough money to restore service to where it was before Metro’s service cuts on March 30, 2009.

Previously, Wrighton has appeared in a pro-transit commercial in which he cites the 25,000 people in the school community who use Metro as a reason to support public transit. Though the commercial does not mention Proposition A, the University did throw in its support for the measure last fall, when it gave $25,000 to the supporting campaign.

The administration’s efforts strongly resemble those taken during the campaign for Proposition M, a similar sales-tax measure that voters defeated in November 2008 by three percentage points. Wrighton sent a similar e-mail to the school community in fall 2008, and the University donated $25,000 to that year’s campaign.

But after many Proposition M supporters complained that 2008’s campaign failed in part because it was spearheaded by businesses and civic leaders, local advocates have attempted to take a more grassroots approach and are conveying a decidedly different message this time: Some people ride transit, but all people need it.

Campus advocates have sought to convey this message to students through a partnership with Bon Appétit. Advocates have given pro-transit buttons for some campus chefs to wear.

“Students are reminded when they get their food that a lot of other people use public transit, even if the students themselves may not use it,” said Liz Kramer, an administrative fellow at the University who has helped coordinate several pro-Metro advocacy events for young St. Louisans.

And improving transit, local advocates say, means jobs­—a message they hope will resonate with voters as the local economy continues to struggle.

With no major races on the ballot on April 6, campus transit advocates are trying to minimize the likely drop in turnout among students, a key group of supporters. “Most students are saying if they’ve registered, they’re coming out to vote,” Kramer said. “But it’s a matter of reminding them.”

Like Wrighton, supporters have emphasized that the ballot measure’s failure would harm the economy and reduce travel options for students.

“Public transportation links workers to employment, patients to health care providers, students to schools and universities, and everyone to cultural and sporting venues,” Wrighton wrote. “Whether we are frequent or occasional riders, we all have access to our public transit system, and we all rely on it.”

Kramer recently appeared on campus dressed in a tiara as her self-created personality, Miz MetroLink, to encourage students to register to vote. Some students have adorned boxes painted to look like buses, and Prop A supporters have handed out more than 1,000 pro-Metro buttons.

A couple of opposition groups, including John Burns’ Citizens for Better Transit and Tom Sullivan’s Public Transit Accountability Project, argue that the proposed tax would harm poor families disproportionately, and feed tax revenue to an agency that went millions of dollars over budget when it built the cross-county MetroLink line.

Supporters counter that the tax would cost a typical family about $50 per year, which they say is outweighed by the benefits of increased transit.

Unlike during the Proposition M campaign, Student Union may not pass a resolution supporting this ballot measure. “I don’t know if we’re going to do one,” said senior Jeff Nelson, the student body president. But Nelson added that some SU leaders, including senior Chase Sackett, the speaker of the Senate, have been working with administration officials on campaign efforts.

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