It’s difficult to generalize about a municipal election where fewer than 50,000 people cast a vote, or just over 25 percent of all registered voters in the City of St. Louis. But the results of the April 5 election in the city made it clear that the overwhelming majority of the 46,221 citizens who went to the polls are willing to invest in the future of this city. Further, they are willing to invest in almost every aspect of this city. By better than two-thirds majorities, voters approved bond issues to fund improvements to public safety and wastewater infrastructure. By the same huge margins, voters approved the continuance of the 1 percent earnings tax that gives the city one-third of its revenue, and voters agreed to increase their property taxes to better fund the public schools.
Coming less than a week after the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency announced the selection of North St. Louis as the site of its new western headquarters, for the first time in a very long time St. Louis has reasons to feel like it’s on a civic winning streak. It is, to say the least, a wildly unfamiliar feeling.
We admit some joy at the comeuppance delivered to Rex Sinquefield, who spent $2 million in St. Louis and Kansas City to defeat their respective earnings taxes and lost badly in both cities. In Kansas City, where earnings tax revenue constitutes 40 percent of the budget for basic services, civic leaders raised $1.17 million to defend the earnings tax against Sinquefield, so he spent most of his $2 million here. But even if he spent only $1 million in St. Louis for the 12,677 “no” votes he got on Proposition E, then he spent $78.88 on each and every one of those wasted votes. For a man who made a fortune on financial investments, he has been a major loser on many of his political investments. We will see if Sinquefield has more success in manipulating the state Legislature to gut these earnings taxes and endanger these cities.
While we commend the voters who realize that city government needs some of their earnings (and the earnings of those who work in the city but live elsewhere) to fund necessary city services, we are especially heartened by the 31,557 voters (69 percent) who voted to increase their property taxes so that Saint Louis Public Schools (SLPS) can continue its early childhood education programs, increase their alternative education programs, improve security and raise salaries. As SLPS Superintendent Kelvin Adams said, “The citizens of St. Louis have said that education is important and they are willing to pay for it.” Truly, this gives us hope, for there is hope for any city, however burdened and challenged, that is willing to invest in its public education. Charlene Lofton Jones, who led the district’s successful campaign, deserves all of our gratitude.
In this cycle of upbeat news, we accepted an honor from the Jennings School District. Tiffany Anderson, the inspirational superintendent who is leaving Jennings to lead Topeka Public Schools, gave The St. Louis American special recognition for “uplifting the image of urban education.” We share this information, not to gloat, but rather to relish such a precisely accurate description of what we are trying to do here. Perhaps more than anything, we are trying to uplift the image of urban education. That is why we recognize urban educators and award scholarships to urban students through our foundation and its partners in our Salute to Excellence in Education program. That is why we have invested in our Newspapers in Education (NIE) program, developing it into the largest free NIE program in the state, with 7,000 elementary students in more than 70 elementary schools in seven urban districts reading this newspaper in their classrooms. That is why we strongly endorsed Proposition 1, the tax increase to fund public schools, and reported more than a month of glowing features about SLPS programs leading up the April 5 election. Because, like a vast majority of our fellow St. Louis citizens, we believe urban education is important and worth paying for – and worth uplifting.