Activists behind an initiative called "Take Back St. Louis" say they are working to limit corporate influence on the city and promote sustainable development. Yesterday the coalition, spearheaded by Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE), delivered more than 36,000 signatures to the city as part of a ballot-initiative petition to ban tax breaks for certain corporations.
City officials, however, say the group could devastate the economy and even hinder the delivery of the most basic public services with this effort. And they are coming down strong with their criticisms.
"This is very broad, very poorly conceived and very badly written," Maggie Crane, spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay, tells Daily RFT. "It could do real damage to the city's economy and it could cause a lot of chaos and uncertainty."
See also: - Take Back St. Louis Ballot Initiative: Activists Target Peabody Energy's Tax Breaks - Peabody Holds Meeting in Wyoming: Trying to Escape St. Louis Protest? - Tea Partiers Hold Flash Mob Outside Peabody Energy St. Louis
One thing is clear: The activists behind the measure and the city of St. Louis have drastically different interpretations of the written language of the proposal.
According to MORE and its allies, the "Take Back St. Louis" initiative -- a proposed amendment to the city charter that voters would have to directly approve on the ballot -- would block St. Louis from granting a wide range of financial incentives to corporations that are considered "unsustainable energy producers."
One of the main targets of this measure is Peabody Energy, the corporation headquartered in St. Louis which has received a variety of tax breaks from the city (and has been a central target of MORE protests for quite some time).
The activists hope that the measure will be placed on the ballot in March for voters to consider.
Meanwhile, the city is pushing back with harsh critiques, arguing that the various definitions in the initiative are so broad that they could apply to a wide range of businesses in St. Louis -- and even city departments directly.
"At minimum, it will create uncertainty and litigation," Crane says. "At worst, it will damage the city's economy, drive jobs out of the city and hurt the delivery of vital public services."
As written, part of the prohibited city incentives include "any monetary or non-monetary benefit related to any public fund or program...[and] any monetary or non-monetary benefit related to any bond, loan, or similar financial arrangement..."
And the "unsustainable energy producers" that would be banned from those incentives are defined as any "entity or organization...that engages primarily in the mining or extraction of any of the following: fossil fuels, coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear and radioactive materials, or other energy sources that are non-renewable." Entities that do $1 million worth of business or more with these corporations would also be banned from incentives.
That means, Crane says, the city could potentially be blocked from funding its own departments as well as companies that simply spend more than $1 million a year on electric costs.
"What would stop these companies from saying, 'If you can't help us, we'll just go to the county.' That doesn't help the environment," Crane says.
Reasonable incentives for a company like Peabody are "important to us," she adds. "Because that's jobs for our residents. That's jobs for our economy. We don't want those jobs going elsewhere."
The reality is, the city can only do so much, given the current constraints of alternative energy nationally and globally, she says. "No one has come up with a perfect, clean system to fuel an entire city and until we have better alternatives, this just isn't at all practical."
Continue for response from MORE and commentary from a lawyer opposing the measure.
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