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St. Louis aldermen call on Missouri Legislature to pass online sales tax bill

St. Louis aldermen call on Missouri Legislature to pass online sales tax bill

St. Louis Board of Aldermen remote meeting

A screen grab of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen meeting on Friday May 1, 2020. They met via a videoconferencing app due to the new coronavirus pandemic. 

ST. LOUIS — The Board of Aldermen on Friday called on Missouri lawmakers to pass legislation allowing the state and its municipalities to begin collecting sales tax from internet vendors without a physical presence in the state.

Aldermen, who met via videoconference, passed the resolution as the Missouri Legislature nears the end of its session amid the coronavirus outbreak that has accelerated the shift to online sales.

Following a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2018 allowing such collections, Missouri remains one of two states that have not passed legislation to allow collection of online sales tax. With state and local coffers in Missouri heavily dependent on sales taxes that are expected to plunge due to the crisis, there’s new urgency from local government officials to pass the legislation.

The city resolution, sponsored by mayoral candidate Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, also calls on legislators to leave off “counterproductive revenue-neutral provisions.” The sponsor of the bill allowing online sales tax collection, Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, has said it won’t pass without corresponding state income tax reduction triggers. It’s unclear whether the bill has the support to pass in Jefferson City, with support from conservative legislators in doubt even with the income tax reduction.

Before the crisis, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, signaled his support for taxing online sales to level the playing field with brick-and-mortar stores.

Also Friday, Alderman Bret Narayan, D-24th Ward, introduced a bill to make it a municipal violation to intentionally cough, sneeze or spit on “essential workers,” such as first responders, health care workers and grocery store employees. Violators would be subject to a fine of up to $500 and up to 90 days in jail.

Two Missouri men were charged last month with making terrorist threats for unhygienic behavior in public. Cody Lee Pfister, 26, was charged after he posted a video online of himself licking items at a Walmart in Warrenton. John Swaller, 33, was charged after he was accused of intentionally coughing at customers at a Walmart in Cuba.

Another bill, introduced by Alderman Shameem Clark Hubbard, D-26th Ward, would ask city voters to raise property taxes by 6 cents per $100 of assessed value to fund early childhood programs.

If approved by voters, the tax increase is expected to raise about $2.3 million per year to be administered by the St. Louis Mental Health Board, which operates the city’s Children’s Services Fund and Mental Health Fund that award grants and funding to social service providers.

The Mental Health Fund is supported by a property tax of 8.7 cents per $100 assessed value and the Children’s Services Fund collects 18.38 cents per $100 assessed value. The extra 6 cents would bring the Children’s Services tax up to the maximum 25 cents allowed by state law.

The new money would be directed to early childhood programs and centers in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. A homeowner with a house valued at $150,000 would pay about $17 more per year in taxes.

Kurt Erickson of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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