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Voter guide to the ballot questions

October 25, 2002
By: Jason McLure
State Capital Bureau

St. Louis Home Rule - Constitiutional Amendment #1

Official ballot language: Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended so that the City of St. Louis may amend or revise their present charter to provide for and reorganize their county functions and offices, as provided in the constitution and laws of the state?
The estimated fiscal impact of this proposed measure to state and local governments is $0

Passage of this amendment would clear the way for St. Louis to adopt Home Rule, allowing the city to determine which of its offices are elected and which appointed. Unlike large counties in the state, Missouri's Constitution does not give St. Louis the same right to choose its own form of government.

St. Louis is the state's only city not located in a county. As a result, the city exercises both city functions as well as many of the responsibilities handled by counties in the rest of the state.

There is a St. Louis County, but it is located west of the city and does not encompass St. Louis city.

The roots of the debate about St. Louis city's form of government run deep. They date to Missouri's 1876 constitution, which gave the city of St. Louis a quasi-county government that is often at odds with the city government headed by the mayor. Missouri's four million voters are now being dragged into a turf war over who will control the levers of power in a city of 350,000 -- because any change in the constitutional sections dealing with the city require statewide voter approval.

As both St. Louis's city and the county govern the same geographical area, there have inevitably been power struggles between the city government and the seven, elected, county officials: the sheriff, license collector, recorder of deeds, treasurer, circuit clerk, public administrator, and revenue collector.

The St. Louis mayor, Francis Slay, and leading business organizations have championed city home rule. Proponents argue that bringing these offices under the mayor's control would make them more responsible to administrative oversight.

They say that citizens in other parts of the state should be concerned that the state legislature has to spend so much time on local, St. Louis issues because of the city's incomplete form of county government.

"It does seem a little silly every time the policemen and firemen of the city of St. Louis want a pay raise that the Missouri Legislature votes on it," says Sen. Marvin Singleton, R-Seneca, "Nowhere else in the state of Missouri does that occur."

They also point out that county jobs in St. Louis frequently are used as rewards for political allies. When a new sheriff is elected, he can clean house and fill deputy positions with his supporters.

This problem recently came to the fore in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch report that showed several of St. Louis' gun-toting, badge-wearing deputies wouldn't have met the minimum qualifications to be a security guard. Others were paid a full-time salary and benefits while working as little as seven and a half hours per week.

Opposition to the amendment is centered in certain quarters of the St. Louis black community. In fact, most of Missouri's black lawmakers voted against putting the issue on the ballot.

Alderman Irving Clay, co-chairman of the Coalition Against Home Rule, says that the elimination of seven elected positions is bad for representative democracy.

He argues that Home Rule is a power-play by the city's large corporations and wealthy citizens to centralize power in the mayor's office. He points out that the wealthy can more easily influence the mayor and his appointments than they can eight separate, elected officials.

Supporters for the amendment have been successful in raising money for the cause. Jason Hannasch, director of Yes on Amendment One, reports that his group has raised roughly $650,000.

Proponents argue that it would provide for more local democratic control by allowing citizens to decide for themselves whether they would like Home Rule. Singleton argues opposition to the amendment is emanating from St. Louis political machines that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, including control over fiefdoms like the treasurer's office.

Negotiating Rights for Firefighters - Constitutional Amendment #2

Official ballot language: Shall Article XIII of the Missouri Constitution be amended to permit specified firefighters and ambulance personnel, and dispatchers of fire departments, fire districts, ambulance districts and ambulance departments and fire and emergency medical services dispatchers of dispatch agencies, to organize and bargain collectively in good faith with their employers through representatives of their own choosing and to enter into enforceable collective bargaining contracts with their employers concerning wages, hours, binding arbitration and all other terms and conditions of employment, except that nothing in this amendment shall grant to the aforementioned employees the right to strike?
The annual costs to paid fire departments and districts, ambulance departments and districts, and dispatch agencies to enter into collective bargaining contracts are approximately $251,600 to $3,145,000 depending upon the number of entities entering into such contracts.

Passage of this amendment would substantially strengthen the bargaining power of firefighters' unions. While it would not give them the right to strike, it would give them the right to negotiate collectively and to binding arbitration.

John Corbett of the Missouri Council of Firefighters says passage of the amendment is an issue of fairness.

"We're not asking for more than our fair share," he says. "We just want the same rights as everyone else."

But Gary Markenson of the Missouri Municipal League says negotiations there are good reasons to treat government workers differently because negogations between government and its workers are inherently different than labor negotiations in the private sector.

Markenson says he has no doubt that passage of this amendment will lead to higher pay for firefighters. He points out that if a private company strikes a bad labor deal, it can go out of business. Governments cannot, and taxpayers are left footing the bill in perpetuity.

Markenson says that binding arbitration is also a bad deal for taxpayers because it allows an outside party to spend government money, a responsibility better left to elected officials.

The estimated cost of this amendment accounts only for how much more towns would have to pay professional negotiators to deal with firefighters.

Calculation of term limits - Constitutional Amendment #3

Official ballot language: Shall Article III, Section 8 of the Missouri Constitution be amended to exclude, from the calculations of term limits for members of the General Assembly, service of less than one-half of a legislative term resulting from a special election held after December 5, 2002? The estimated fiscal impact of this proposed measure to state and local governments is $0.

This amendment would exclude some partial terms from term limit calculations for the Missouri legislature. Legislators currently are limited to serving eight years in any one chamber. In the Senate, this is two four-year terms. In the House, four two-year terms.

Currently if a legislator is elected in a special election to fill an unexpired term -- even for a term as short as one day -- the entire term counts towards his term limits.

Constitutional Amendment 3 would exclude partial terms if less than one-half of the full term of office is being filled by the special election.

Passage of this amendment would not directly affect any current legislators, as it only would affect those elected after December of this year.

Jointly owned power plants

Joint Municipal Utilities - Constitutional Amendment #4

Official ballot language: Shall joint boards or commissions, established by contract between political subdivisions, be authorized to own joint projects, to issue bonds in compliance with then applicable requirements of law, the bonds not being indebtedness of the state or political subdivisions, and such activities not to be regulated by the Public Service Commission?
The measure provides potential savings of state revenue and imposes no new costs.

Passage of this amendment would clear the way for small towns to join together to build large power plants, thereby allowing them to produce power more cheaply. Proponents of this amendment argue that if there are more municipal power plants, Missourians will not be as dependent on expensive, out-of-state electricity.

Previous opposition on this issue had come primarily from private sector power companies who argued that because their rates were regulated by the Public Service Commission, those of municipally owned utilities should be as well.

Ameren UE and other large private power companies have since dropped their opposition to it.

Tobacco Tax Increase - Proposition A

Official ballot language: Shall Missouri law be amended to impose an additional tax of 2.75 cents per cigarette (fifty-five cents per pack) and 20 percent on other tobacco products, with the new revenues placed into a Healthy Families Trust Fund to be used for the following purposes: hospital trauma care and emergency preparedness; health care treatment and access, including prescription drug assistance for seniors and health care initiatives for low income citizens, women, minorities, and children; life sciences research; smoking prevention; and grants for early childhood care and education?
An additional tax of two and three-quarters cents per cigarette and an additional tax of twenty percent of the manufacturer's invoice price for tobacco products other than cigarettes would generate net annual state revenues of approximately $342,636,000; local fiscal impact, if any, is unknown.

This proposition would raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes by 55 cents, generating the state an estimated $343 million for new spending for healthcare and anti-tobacco programs. Taxes on other tobacco products would be raised 20 percent.

The lion's share of the tax --$147 million-- is earmarked for programs providing healthcare for low-income families and prescription drugs for seniors.

Nearly $100 million of the proposed tax would be used to upgrade hospitals' emergency services such as ambulances and trauma care.

Another $48 million would fund anti-tobacco and early childhood wellness programs.

An additional $48 million would go for life sciences research, something the state does not currently fund.

Linda Luebbering, the state's budget director, said the wording of the amendment will make it difficult for the legislature to channel the new tobacco tax money for other spending priorities, such as higher education. She said much of the money can only go for new programs, and cannot be used to replace revenue for existing state programs.

Luebbering said the cigarette tax would help solve a looming fiscal crisis for the state over the spiralling costs of Medicaid.

Critics of the proposition argue the tax will fall disproportionately on Missouri's poor, who are more likely to use tobacco. The tax would cost smokers who smoke one pack a day $200.75 annually.

Ronald Leone, a lobbyist for convenience stores in Missouri, argues that raising the cigarette tax from 17 to 72 cents will fuel smuggling and boost internet and out-of-state cigarette sales, at the expense of Missouri retailers.

Constitutional Convention

Official ballot language: Shall there be a convention to revise and amend the Constitution?

Missouri's current constitution provides that this question be submitted to Missouri voters every 20 years. Any proposed by the convention would require statewide voter approval to take effect. A constitional convention could propose an entirely new document that is the basis of Missouri law or propose specific amendments to the existing constitution.

If passed, Gov. Bob Holden would call for the election of 83 delegates, two from each Senate district plus fifteen at-large delegates.

The last convention was in 1942, and yielded the constitution still in use today. That constitution has been amended nearly 60 times.

A new constitution could revise and clarify Missouri law, but it also could become a political football, says Rick Hardy, a professor of political science at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Hardy said continual amending of the current constitution is making it overly long and detailed. However, a new convention could be hijacked by issues ranging from abortion to gun control to the size of the General Assembly.

Missourians rejected this question by a two to one margin in 1982.