Take Back St. Louis Ballot Initiative: Activists Target Peabody Energy's City Tax Breaks
Update below: Today, St. Louis activists who have regularly protested Peabody Energy with high-profile rallies are pushing forward with a new kind of action against the corporation -- one that they say has not been tried before in the city.
The coalition of groups, spearheaded by Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE), plans to deliver more than 36,000 signatures to the city's election board this morning, marking the first step in the initiative petition process. If all goes according to the group's plan, voters will have the opportunity on an upcoming ballot to amend the city charter with a measure that would prohibit the city of St. Louis from granting tax incentives to companies like Peabody.
"A big part of this ballot initiative is trying to realign how the city thinks about development," MORE organizer Arielle Klagsbrun tells Daily RFT.
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Organizers are meeting at Poelker Park across from city hall today at 10 a.m. for a rally and subsequent march to hand over the petitions.
The initiative, which the backers have labeled "Take Back St. Louis," says the city "shall not grant any Public Financial Incentive to any Unsustainable Energy Producer."
The proposed "Sustainable Energy Policy" city charter amendment -- full language below -- defines "public financial incentive" as "any economic or financial incentive offered or provided by the City," including tax reductions, credits, tax increment financing and more. And "unsustainable energy producer" is defined as an entity or organization that engages primarily in mining or extraction of fossil fuels, coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear and radioactive materials, or "other energy sources that are non-renewable."
Simply put, if this proposal successfully makes it to the ballot and voters approve it, Peabody, which is headquartered in St. Louis, would be blocked from accessing tax breaks (as would other entities that do a million dollars or more of business with Peabody).
MORE says that the city of St. Louis gave Peabody $61 million in tax breaks in 2010 (though the company has disputed that number).
"The fact that we have 36,000 signatures shows that there are 36,000 people that want to have a vote on this," Klagsbrun says.
To get on the ballot, only 22,000 signatures are required.
If the election board certifies the signatures, then the proposal will go to the city board of aldermen, which would essentially have a symbolic vote on the matter. Because the initiative is a change to city charter, it has to go directly to voters; it would presumably be on the citywide ballot in March of next year.
"This kind of an approach...hasn't been used in St. Louis, and nothing like this has been put forward nationally either," Klagsbrun says.
A spokeswoman for the mayor's office tells Daily RFT that the city does not yet have a comment until it reviews the final language of the submitted proposal.
Attorneys already organizing against the measure, however, have told the Beacon and the Post-Dispatch that the initiative will likely face legal challenges and argue that the amendment is so broad it "would shut down city government" and "devastate the city..."
Critics say the language could be interpreted to even "block basic city services."
"We've had lawyers look over the petitions," Cheyenne Thomas, another organizer with the Take Back St. Louis campaign, tells Daily RFT. "We're not worried."
"The Take Back St. Louis initiative brings in the resources that we need and also allows us to use tax dollars to help sustain our land and our economy," Thomas says.
Continue for the full language of the proposed amendment and a response from Peabody.