Metro to Voters: Pass Our Tax or We'll Cut Ya' in Half

That's pretty much the message that Robert Baer, president and CEO of the Metro transit agency, delivered to St. Louis County voters in today's Post-Dispatch.

Baer says that if county voters do not approve a half-cent sales tax in April, the agency will be forced to cut half its service beginning next July.

So, is Baer's threat realistic, or more like a "sensational and startling" tale from an old Hollywood Western?

According to Baer, it's very real. After county voters rejected a nearly identical ballot issue for Metro in November 2008, the transit agency responded by eliminating about 30 percent of its service routes. (More than half of which have been restored thanks in part to a federal stimulus funds.)

If voters do the same in April, Metro says it will be forced to take more drastic measures by cutting its service in half and firing 600 employees. The reason? The agency will have to prepare a long-term budget that does not account for any additional income.

Yesterday, the St. Louis County Council narrowly approved (4-3) a measure to put the half-cent sales tax on the April ballot. The proposal would also trigger a quarter-cent sales tax in the city should county voters side with Metro. The tax is expected to raise about $75 million annually to be used to improve and expand its services.

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