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With election wins, St. Louis has some breathing room

St. Louis fire chief, Dennis Jenkerson, is all smiles on April 6, 2016 after city voters overwhelmingly approved the earnings tax and a bond issue.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI
St. Louis fire chief, Dennis Jenkerson, is all smiles after city voters overwhelmingly approved the earnings tax and a bond issue.

The overwhelming votes in St. Louis and Kansas City to keep the earnings tax may short-circuit efforts at the state level to eliminate it in St. Louis.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, is spearheading the measure, which would phase out the 1 percent tax over 10 years. On Thursday, Senate Republican leader Ron Richard said he will not push to bring his colleague's bill up for a vote.

"I've always erred on [the side of] local people voting, and I mean anybody that sees that vote, why would you want to bring it up? I don't see the benefit of that," Richard said. St. Louis voters retained their earnings tax with 72 percent of the vote in unofficial results, and the margin was larger in Kansas City.

Richard said he will leave the final decision on the next steps for the earnings tax to the Republican floor leader Mike Kehoe of Jefferson City, and to Schaefer, the sponsor. Schaefer, who is also running for attorney general, has not yet commented on the results of Tuesday's vote, but has in the past called the earnings tax "outdated," "dysfunctional" and possibly unconstitutional.

A spokesman for the No on E campaign in St. Louis, Ed Rhode, pointed out that while the raw number of yes votes barely changed between 2011 and 2016, nearly three times as many people voted no. (In total, the measure earned 24,183 no votes in St. Louis and Kansas City.) The campaign, funded exclusively by retired billionaire Rex Sinquefield, spent at least $750,000 on its losing effort, the vast majority in the St. Louis area.

Fire Chief Jenkerson:  A 'very good night' for the city

In addition to retaining the earnings tax, St. Louis voters also overwhelmingly approved a $25 million bond issue for critical capital needs. It will fund new fire trucks and ambulances, repairs to city buildings, a new property custody facility for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, a new computer system for the assessor, and matching dollars for bridge repair.

It will be 2017 before Chief Dennis Jenkerson's fire crews will be on the new equipment — it takes about a year to build them. The bids are ready, he said, and the current equipment should hold up that long.

"The rescue squads are probably the most important pieces we’ve got to get ordered right away — we’re seeing some difficult times with those," he said. "I’m hoping that they’re going to hold up. We do have a reserve unit to put them in, so ..."

The bond issue easily cleared the two-thirds majority needed for passage. Jenkerson said he's proud that voters have that much respect for his department.

Follow Marshall on Twitter: @marshallgreport

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.
Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.