Senate Reaches Bipartisan Compromise on Senator Gina Walsh’s Bill to Support the St. Louis Zoo

Walsh - Banner - Press Release - 010813 - II

JEFFERSON CITY — Today, the Missouri Senate gave first-round approval to bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, that provides a common sense solution to multiple long-term infrastructure repair and replacement needs at the Saint Louis Zoo.

Rather than creating a new sales tax authorization for counties in the St. Louis metropolitan area, Walsh worked with stakeholders at the state and local level to reform a 1980s sales tax law by adding more transparency and taxpayer protections.

“This bill is a prime example of how a compromise is supposed to work in the Senate,” said Walsh. “I commend my colleagues for working across party lines to help the St. Louis Zoo and to clean up our tax code in a way that will benefit taxpayers across the state.”

Under current law, any county has the ability to levy a general sales tax up to one-half of 1 percent with voter approval, which can be dedicated for any purpose at the discretion of the respective county. However, only in St. Louis County and only for issues where local governments were partnering with county government, five-eighths of the revenue collected has to be redistributed to local municipalities in the county. Walsh’s legislation would exempt the county from this distribution requirement and reduce the eligible tax rate in St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis from one-half of 1 percent to one-eighth of 1 percent if the tax is being used for zoological activities.

“St. Louis County should not have to ask taxpayers to support a higher sales tax rate just to account for the five-eighths that would have to be redistributed to the municipalities in St. Louis County,” said Walsh. “Given that these cities are not operating local zoos, it made sense to reduce and reform this section of our existing tax code.”

Another key element of Sen. Walsh’s bill would allow the St. Louis Zoo to charge anyone who does not live in St. Louis County or the City of St. Louis an admission fee to any new facilities, programs or events that are not currently part of the Zoological Museum Sub-District.

“The St. Louis Zoo is the number one free attraction in the nation, and it’s important to me that the main campus remains affordable for everyone,” said Sen. Walsh. “But if taxpayers in St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis are going to shoulder the tax burden, it’s reasonable and fair to charge an admission to any new facilities that may be part of the Zoo’s long-term strategic plan to continue to connect generations of families with nature and wildlife and to ensure so many of the animals we love can be part of the lives of the next generation of Missourians.”

Senator Walsh also supported an amendment to cap general sales taxes at the municipal and county level because current law does not limit how many times a city or county places a general sales tax on the ballot. This amendment adds clarity in the state’s tax code to ensure the interpretation of local taxing authority is not left up to the courts.

Here is a summary of Senate Bill 49, which received first-round approval from the Senate today. Senate Bill 49:

  • exempts St. Louis County from requirement under current law to distribute five-eighths of any general sales tax authorized under 67.547 RSMo back to municipalities in St. Louis County;
  • reduces the amount St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis can levy in sales taxes to support the Zoo from one-half of 1 percent to one-eighth of 1 percent under the existing sales tax authorization in 67.547 RSMo; and
  • authorizes the Zoo to charge anyone outside of St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis an admission to any new facilities outside the main Zoo campus.