Prop S Primer: JeffCo Road Tax Renewal

20 Jul

The following item, Proposition S, will appear on Jefferson County ballots at the August 5 primary:

Shall the County of Jefferson amend the Road Improvement Sales Tax adopted by voters on April 1, 1986, by renewing this current countywide sales tax at the rate of one-half of one percent (1/2 of 1%) for a period of fifteen (15) years from the expiration of the current tax for the purpose of capital improvements to the publicly maintained roads of both the unincorporated and incorporated areas of Jefferson County based upon a population and mileage formula?

As the language indicates, this tax was first approved in 1986, with a 15-year expiration date. It was approved again in 1998, and it expires in September 2016 (I guess the second 15 years was added on at the end of the first 15.) Last year, the tax generated $10.2 million, of which $6.9 million went to the county government and the rest went to JeffCo municipalities.

A half-cent sales tax adds 5 cents to every $10 purchase. Depending on where you live in the county, you pay a sales tax rate of 6.6% to 9.35% (that’s Arnold) on most purchases. This includes taxes imposed by state, county, fire, ambulance, and other local entities. Allowing this tax to expire, which will happen if it isn’t renewed, would drop your tax rate by 0.5; passing Prop S would keep it the same.

There has been some contention over the way the tax money is distributed. The folks in Arnold have demanded that they get a bigger cut. Unfortunately, the county council at its July 14 meeting voted to adjust the formula to basically give Arnold an extra $300,000 per year, on top of its allotment of about $900,000.

Despite the change, I am leaning towards supporting this proposition (which could draw ire from many of my readers). Roads are a proper function of government (unlike many things it does), and this tax ensures that our roads get fixed and expanded. This money can’t be spent elsewhere. Some would argue that we should reject this tax and force county and city governments to cut elsewhere to come up with road money. I am sympathetic to that argument, but then you run the risk that the money won’t be allocated to roads. I am OK with this particular tax. Here’s a Festus-specific flyer supporting the tax, from a group called Citizens for Safe Roads (it’s always about safety, isn’t it?). Here’s one for Crystal City.
I’m kind of tempted, though, to oppose it, in the hopes that next time (and this tax will be brought up again if it fails – they always do. That’s why they are starting the renewal drive two years before the expiration date), the formula will be reverted, taking away Arnold’s bonus. But I’m not sure Arnold would get the blame if the vote fails.

This tax should not be confused with Amendment 7, which will also be on the ballot. This amendment, if passed, will raise the sales tax statewide by 0.75%. This would push sales taxes in Arnold over 10% overall. This money would not necessarily go to roads; unlike Prop S, it can also go to light rail, streetcars, and bike paths. Jefferson County would get about $100 million over 10 years under this tax, and MODOT has identified which projects the money would go to (see the link). I do not support this proposal. If more road money is really needed, I would rather see it come through the gas tax. Even the Post-Dispatch editorial board doesn’t like this tax, although I’m not a fan of all their reasons. County Executive Ken Waller and council candidate Jim Kasten support it, however. But the main supporters are those who would benefit from additional road construction: contractors and unions. Left-leaning groups have actually been some of the biggest opponents of this amendment.

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2 Responses to “Prop S Primer: JeffCo Road Tax Renewal”

  1. Bob Hohmeier July 21, 2014 at 11:09 am #

    I like your second part better where you’re tempted to oppose it. You’ve probably seen elsewhere that I oppose it for several reasons. First, it was to be a temporary tax that will be going on 30 years. Taxes have continually gone up and we actually have, for a change, an opportunity to keep a little bit more of our own money!

    If you beleive government is too big, vote NO on Prop S. If you beleive there is not large amounts of waste in government, vote NO on Prop S.

    All of us have had to make cuts. In hours. In pay. Doing without things we like. Scrimping more and more to get by. If the economy hasn’t affected you negatively, then you are probably in the 1%. Government needs to reign itself in like we’ve had to. Do without all it wants. The newest cars and equipment. The finest buildings. The duplicity of services. Just learn to live like the folks it taxes to supply its needs and wants!

    If we refuse to give them to extra tax revenue now, we can be sure they’ll ask again, and again, and again, for the next two years. If we stand firm, though, and refuse them, maybe, just maybe, they’ll look inwards and actually rid the county of some size and waste!

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