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April vote on city tax measures now up to the courts

MetroLink train at station
File photo | Chris McDaniel | St. Louis Public Radio
Even if it passes the Board of Aldermen, a sales tax for MetroLink expansion will need a court order to appear on the April ballot.

The bid for public votes on a sales tax for economic development and on public funding for a proposed Major League Soccer stadium near Union Station faces a new hurdle to make the April ballot.

The Board of Aldermen had until Tuesday to send the measures to Mayor Francis Slay for his signature to meet a state-imposed deadline for the general election.  Because the board did not do so, it will take a court order for the measures to appear on the ballot.

The measure that would direct extra use tax revenue to the stadium has received most of the attention. But a half-cent sales tax increase targeted at economic development efforts like a north-south MetroLink expansion or job training also is in limbo in the Ways and Means committee. The increase in the use tax, which is paid by businesses, would happen only if voters approve the sales tax increase.

The use of public dollars for the stadium is decidedly more controversial than the economic development tax. But Alderman Christine Ingrassia, D-6th Ward, who sponsored both measures, said she doesn't believe that explains the delay on the economic development tax.

"I think it was more in the political crossfires of the Scottrade bill, which went on the Ways and Means committee agenda last week out of the blue. I think it was bad timing," Ingrassia said.

The Scottrade bill is a large-scale renovation of the multi-use Scottrade Center, which is owned by the city but operated by the St. Louis Blues. Two aldermen walked out of a Ways and Means committee hearing last week, leaving the committee without enough people to take a vote on the Scottrade bill or either of the tax measures.

Ingrassia said she hopes the Ways and Means chairman, Steve Conway, D-8th Ward, schedules another hearing on the sales tax soon.

"But we’re not under a strict deadline to make that happen in April, so if it doesn’t, it’s something that we’re always able to revisit," she said.

Maggie Crane, a spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay, said the mayor is "fine" with missing the Tuesday deadline, calling it "artificial."

"The Election Board isn't printing ballots tomorrow," she said.

A judge would have until Feb. 21 to act. Crane said it's possible, but not likely, the courts could say no. The courts can only act if the Board of Aldermen approves the measures. Ingrassia said she is confident the sales tax has the votes to pass.

MLS funding

Backers of the MLS expansion team also are waiting to see what happens. Jim Kavanaugh, an executive with the ownership group SC STL told sports radio station 590 The Fan that the group would attend any meeting that gets scheduled — likely Thursday at the earliest.

"I feel very, very confident that if we get through the process, it won't be long after that that we would get a commitment from MLS" for an expansion team, Kavanaugh said.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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