Dave Helling

Why would Missouri voters decide whether St. Louis City and County should merge?

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Videos taken by Maris Ewing on property in Morgan County, Mo., where 11 dogs, two horses and a goat were found and rescued in January 2018. The animals allegedly were kept by Julie Bernet, a former dog breeder in Johnson County, Kan.
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Videos taken by Maris Ewing on property in Morgan County, Mo., where 11 dogs, two horses and a goat were found and rescued in January 2018. The animals allegedly were kept by Julie Bernet, a former dog breeder in Johnson County, Kan.

The state’s heavy hand hovers over our friends in St. Louis.

For years, the city’s bigwigs have talked about combining St. Louis City, which is old, poor, and losing residents, with St. Louis County, which is largely rich and growing. A consolidated St. Louis, the theory goes, would be more efficient and once again a national power.

Broadly, city dwellers have supported the idea, while county folks have been lukewarm. Consolidation talks have repeatedly fallen apart.

No matter: This month, a group funded by perpetual busybody Rex Sinquefield is expected to lay out a St. Louis combination plan.

Crucially, the proposal would require a statewide vote on the idea in 2020. That means folks in Sedalia, Springfield — heck, even Kansas City — would determine how St. Louis is run.

That’s ridiculous. Can we all agree that this is something for St. Louis area residents to decide, and not the rest of us?

After all, if Sinquefield, a multi-millionaire and a major GOP donor, and his pals can force consolidation in St. Louis, they can do it anywhere. Are you listening, Lee’s Summit and Independence? Prepare to lose your city hall to the Jackson County courthouse.

No. This state interference in a local matter is uninvited, unworkable, unfair and unnecessary.

Even worse, forced consolidation in St. Louis would seriously embolden the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do anti-urban crowd in Jefferson City.

Not that they need much encouragement. The state’s voters have already required St. Louis and Kansas City to put their earnings taxes on the ballot every five years. A lawmaker from Weldon Spring with too much time on his hands wants to end the cities’ earning taxes altogether.

Missouri already controls the Kansas City Police Department. It took a statewide vote to put the St. Louis cops under St. Louis control. Cities can’t craft their own minimum wage or weapons laws, or even prohibit plastic bags.

Defenders of such shenanigans insist the state “has a stake” in its major urban areas and can therefore tell cities what to do. Knock it off. The state’s voters don’t pick mayors and council members, and they shouldn’t make major policy decisions for cities, either.

And rural lawmakers know this. When urban voters approved restrictions on puppy mills a few years ago, they howled. “The tip of the iceberg!” a certain Mike Parson complained before tossing aside the will of the city people.

Consolidation in St. Louis may make sense. I don’t know, and unless you live there, you don’t, either. We couldn’t cast an intelligent vote either way. St. Louis residents can.

Happily, there’s a model for acceptable urban consolidation: in Kansas, where Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., joined hands more than two decades ago. State lawmakers authorized the marriage but required local voter approval first.

It passed. Someone sued. The Kansas Supreme Court upheld the deal.

“Nothing can be more basic,” the judges said, “than to allow voters of a given area to decide the form of government they desire.”

Put down the checkbook, Mr. Sinquefield. Let the people of St. Louis decide.

Dave Helling has covered politics in Kansas and Missouri for four decades. He has worked in television news, and is a regular contributor to local broadcast programs. Helling writes editorials for the Star, and a weekly column. He was awarded the 2018 ASNE Burl Osborne award for editorial leadership.
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