Tax for Metro goes to a vote

| Enterprise Editor

Supporters of a proposed sales-tax hike for Metro are making their final case to students and local residents to get them to turn out to vote “yes” in Tuesday’s St. Louis County election, as a smaller organized opposition continues to work to defeat the measure.

Sensing that they face an uphill battle, Washington University students and administrators have joined forces with local transit advocates. Together, they have poured thousands of dollars, several volunteers and hours of time into mobilization efforts in the final days before the election, whose outcome carries major implications for Metro, the region’s transit system.

“We’re not going to stop until the polls close at 7 p.m.,” said Liz Kramer, an administrative fellow who has spearheaded efforts to support Proposition A.

Students voted in overwhelming favor of November 2008’s unsuccessful Proposition M, and it has become clear that supporters of this year’s measure are banking their hopes in part on youth turnout. But turnout decreases sharply in off-year, non-November elections, especially among younger voters, and members of both sides acknowledge that every voter will count.

“I really want to encourage people not to take this for granted,” Chancellor Mark Wrighton said. “This is of vital importance to our community, and turning out to vote is critical.”

But Wrighton has been mindful of the turnout problem. “This is an April election,” he said. “There’s no political candidate with high visibility on the ballot.”

Proposition A would increase the St. Louis County sales tax by 0.5 percent and trigger a previously passed 0.25 percent tax increase in the city of St. Louis. Supporters say it would raise about $80 million per year to restore transit service that Metro cut on March 30, 2009, and support future light-rail expansion. If the measure fails, Metro says it would need to cut service to well below March 30, 2009, levels.

Opponents argue the tax would disproportionately harm lower-income families while benefiting a small number of people, and give hundreds of millions of tax dollars to an agency that has misspent public money.

“If 100 families benefit and 500 families can’t make their house payment next time, have we really done anything beneficial for the region?” said Gina Loudon, a leader of the St. Louis Tea Party.

The administration and student groups have devoted significantly more resources to Prop A efforts than they did to Prop M, which failed by three percentage points despite overwhelming student support. The University has donated $75,000 to the pro-Prop A campaign, versus $25,000 to the Prop M campaign, according to Rob Wild, the assistant to the chancellor.

Though the chancellor wrote e-mails to the school community in both campaigns, this time he has taken a highly visible role in St. Louis County. Wrighton has e-mailed thousands of alumni who live in St. Louis County to encourage them to vote for the measure, and has chaired the Advance St. Louis steering committee and spoken to the media.

The Faculty Senate Executive Committee has endorsed Proposition A, and its leadership sent an e-mail to Senate members encouraging them to vote “yes.”

In his March 22 e-mail to the school community, Wrighton urged students and faculty to turn out and vote in favor of the proposition. “Passage of Proposition A is critical to the overall vitality of the St. Louis area,” he wrote. Wrighton also appeared in a recent Citizens for Modern Transit commercial in which he says transit “carries 25,000 of my university students, faculty and staff.”

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