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Proposal To Bar Tax Breaks To Energy Firms Makes St. Louis' April Ballot

Peabody Energy company is based in St. Louis and fuels 10 percent of U.S. power and 2 percent of electricity worldwide.
Peabody Energy company is based in St. Louis and fuels 10 percent of U.S. power and 2 percent of electricity worldwide.

Barring a last-minute legal challenge, St. Louis voters will be asked on April 8 to decide the fate of a proposed amendment to the city charter to bar tax breaks for Peabody Energy or any other firm involved in “unsustainable energy production.”

“We know for a fact that it’s going to be on the ballot in April,’’ said Mary Wheeler-Jones, the Democratic elections director for the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners. The only roadblock would be if a lawsuit successfully knocks the proposal off the ballot, she said.

MORE, a regional activist group, turned over more than 40,000 signatures from registered city voters last fall. Enough were certified to meet the required 21,679 signatures, city election officials say.

The Election Board had waited to see if the Board of Aldermen would take action within the 60 days required under St. Louis’ election procedures.  The board did not, so now the proposed amendment goes before voters.

Wheeler-Jones said the proposal will be the only matter on the April ballot. As a result, voter turnout could be low, making it imperative that backers or opponents get their allies to the polls.

The measure does have its critics, including St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, who has said that the initiative is poorly worded and could have unforeseen consequences. Some St. Louis firms also have hinted at a possible legal challenge.

Said supporters in a statement: "We know that even as we advocate for a green economy for St. Louis, opponents such as Peabody will continue to cast doubt on the initiative. We have brought this initiative to the voters because we believe in St. Louisans' abilities to decide on what kind of city we want to live in. If we go through traditional political channels, big money will prevail. But this ballot initiative is a different channel by which St. Louisans have the chance to determine their future."


In a statement months ago, backers said the initiative “aims to create a sustainable green economy in St. Louis by moving the flow of development dollars away from unsustainable energy corporations and into sustainability projects and renewable energy.”


Although Peabody Energy isn’t mentioned in the ballot wording,supporters acknowledge that Peabody is a prime target.They want to block any further city tax breaks from going to Peabody, which earlier received incentives to keep the firm’s headquarters downtown.

The ballot proposal also would bar any tax breaks to any other entity “that does $1 million of business with them per year."  Slay and his staff have said that provision could harm many other St. Louis businesses and force them to leave the city.

Other provisions in the ballot measure would mandate that the city set up “a sustainable energy plan that includes public money for renewable energy and sustainability projects and opens up city-held land for related projects.”

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.