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Arch Tax Begins Long Process To Passage

The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial could change to the Gateway Arch National Park by July 2018.
The St. Louis Arch.

St. Louis aldermen on Friday took the first step in the long process of securing money for an upgrade of the Arch grounds.

The bill would send to city voters an additional 3/16-cent sales tax, which was authorized by state legislation approved in May. Similar measures may be on the ballot in St. Louis and St. Charles counties. In each county, the funds would go three places: local parks, regional bike trails, and the $380 million CityArchRiver project to re-do the grounds of the national park. To take effect, the tax would have to pass in St. Louis County and either St. Charles County or the city. 

Ald. Phyllis Young acknowledged that it's unusual to use local tax dollars to fund a federal park. But she called the Arch crucial to the region's identity.

"Everyone who lives throughout this region uses that as their identifying feature," she said. "When you see sports events taking place, that's the symbol that shows the city."

But Young acknowledges she may not be able to overcome skepticism about CityArchRiver's plans.

"The hope is that people will see the value of the lid across from the Old Courthouse to the Arch grounds making it easier for pedestrians enough that they are not going to get in the midst of the argument that the highway should come down and all that," she said.

For many reasons, Ald. Scott Ogilvie is among the skeptics.

"Sales tax is a regressive tax" he said. "It hits lower-income people harder. And to increase a regressive tax in order to fund a project that I think just costs too much and is aimed at tourists in my mind is probably not the best idea."

Ogilvie is also concerned about the oversight of the revenue, which could total $38 million a year if all three units pass the tax.

The measure must clear the Board of Aldermen by Jan. 18, 2013 to be on the April ballot. The board is scheduled to meet just three times (Dec. 14, Jan. 11, and Jan 18) before then.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.