St. Louis faces a reckoning that extends beyond a successful or failed attempt to stitch itself back together.
The fight over municipal consolidation will increase the spotlight over the region’s toxic political culture. Many deterrents of consolidation hope to preserve their fiefdoms. Some proponents of consolidation hope it consolidates their power. The largest financial backer of consolidation hopes to realize his dream of dissolving the earnings tax.
These motivations are the ugly underbelly for and against consolidation. The will to change cannot mean the willing suspension of disbelief. Reimagining St. Louis should not mean ignoring the past. With open eyes, St. Louisans will have to weigh political ambitions against the facts of fragmentation.
Any plan put forward to consolidate, merge or unify the region of St. Louis will be imperfect. So will be the political actors who push for it. However, keeping the current system will only ensure the lessons of history go unread as the region declines further.
Mountains of data indicate the current regional structure perpetuates inequity, hurts residents and drags down the economy. The Ferguson Commission, Better Together (Missouri Council for a Better Economy), The PFM Group, The Brookings Institute, The Show Me Institute, The Police Executive Research Forum, Team TIF, professors at Washington University, St. Louis University, UMSL, and the University of Iowa have all cataloged the broken nature of the region’s structure.
The evidence in favor of a new regional structure is overwhelming. Residents should ultimately vote for a redesigned St. Louis while knowing that a new structure is only a first step. Greater scrutiny of elected officials and campaign finance will be required. Higher standards for addressing racial inequity must be met. More civic engagement has to be found. Investigative journalism must dive deeper.
Consolidation of government structures will not cure racial inequity, political corruption or local parochialism. So as a merger vote approaches and every day after, St. Louisans will have to keep asking—does this make St. Louis strong?