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Americans for Prosperity tabulate at least 229 fiscal proposals, including Arch tax, on April ballot

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 13, 2013 - In a sign that fiscally conservative groups are gearing up again in Missouri, the state’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity will be raising alarm bells Wednesday about the number of local tax proposals to be on ballots across the state on April 2.

Patrick Werner, executive director of the Missouri chapter, said that his group’s activists have verified at least 229 tax or bond proposals from roughly 85 percent of the state’s counties.

The details are to be unveiled at a news conference Wednesday in Jefferson City that Werner said is to highlight the sheer number of tax hikes, fee increases or bond issues on the April 2 ballot. "We want the 'wow' factor," he said.

As far as Werner knows, his group’s project is the first by any AFP state chapter to tabulate the number of tax proposals headed for the ballot.

The April 2 ballot measures include the proposed Arch/parks sales tax that will go before voters in St. Louis and St. Louis County. Also counted were 15 proposed tax hikes, fee increases or bond issues slated to be decided by St. Louis County voters in municipalities or school districts.

Werner said that AFP isn’t automatically opposing all of the local money proposals. But it isn’t endorsing them either.

"In essence, we don’t think the first course of action should be to ask for more money from Missourians," he said. "Have we exhausted all the options of cutting waste or reducing costs, before we go back to the voters saying, 'Give us more money?' "

Werner noted that many voters may live where they could be affected by several of the money proposals.

Wednesday’s news conference also is intended to send a message to state legislators who may not be aware of what local municipalities, schools and other entities — such as ambulance or fire districts — are proposing for the April 2 ballot.

"It’s to say, 'Let’s take a step back and let’s recognize just how many of these local taxing entities are putting these increases on the ballot,' " Werner said. "That’s the first message. The second message is to say, ‘Are these good?’ Is this what our economy needs? Is this what we want to do?"

Americans for Prosperity advocates lower taxes and less government. The national group has ties to the Koch brothers.

AFP leaders also are unveiling Wednesday astate map that highlights all the local revenue proposals,and announcing anew website, “NoMoSpending.com.”

Werner added that the state AFP will help activists who decide to oppose some of the measures.

The main message Wednesday about the money proposals, he said, is simply “look how many there are."

(UPDATE) The Missouri School Board Association countered by saying that local school districts had no choice but to seek local financial help when the state has failed to fully fund its financial aid programs to the schools.

“It’s not surprising that we are seeing a significant number of local school issues on the April 2 ballot. School boards often have no alternative but to turn to local voters for support in order to prevent additional budget cuts or to fund much-needed improvements," said Brent Ghan, the association's chief communications officer.

"The state is underfunding the foundation formula by more than $600 million right now and school districts are facing the loss of federal funding because of sequestration," he continued. "It is, of course, up to voters to decide if they will support these local issues. In recent years, it has been encouraging to see so many local school issues approved by voters, an indication of strong support for their local school districts. We are definitely seeing a shift in the responsibility for funding our schools from the state to the local level.” (End update)

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.