Commentary: Five Takeaways From Better Together’s Plan for a St. Louis “Metro City”

By on February 5, 2019

From NextSTL:  It’s official:  A task force sponsored by local think tank Better Together is calling for the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County to combine in a new type of local government called a “Metropolitan City.” Governed by an elected mayor and a 33-member council, the new Metro City would have sweeping powers to enact new laws, tax its residents and oversee functions including the police, courts and economic development.

Because the proposed changes would require amending Missouri’s constitution, Better Together will seek an initiative petition to put its proposal on a statewide ballot in November 2020. If approved, a two-year transition period would begin in 2021, with the new government fully in place by 2023.

The task force’s plan is ambitious and complex. It already faces opposition from the Municipal League of Metro St. Louis and others who oppose a statewide vote and worry about forfeiting local control. Adding further spice to the mix is the behind-the-scenes role of philanthropist and political donor Rex Sinquefield, a champion of limited government who is Better Together’s main financial backer. He’s expected to help bankroll a $25 million statewide campaign to convince voters to support the proposal. (Better Together insiders acknowledge that a statewide vote, rather than a vote only in the city and county, would probably be easier for them to win.)

Here are five takeaways after Better Together’s formal announcement of its proposal on Monday. They touch on themes certain to surface as the ballot campaign, led by outgoing Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton, gets underway.

1. Will St. Louis Metro City really be the nation’s 10th biggest city? Or merely the 30th? Keep an eye on the Census Bureau.

Bragging rights matter, so the bureau’s eventual determination will be important. Better Together plans to reclassify existing cities in St. Louis County as “municipal districts” with limited taxing and lawmaking powers. Legally they would no longer be fully-fledged municipalities. Better Together’s lawyers say this means their residents would be counted as residents of the Metro, not of a particular muni district. Chesterfield, for example, would no longer have around 47,000 residents, at least for census purposes. It would have zero.

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