This is the second post in a series on the true cost of putting proceeds from the proposed use tax increase towards building an MLS stadium instead of funds for public services. It does not advocate for or against the passage of the increased sales tax proposition.
This past January, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen advanced a bill that would use 60 million dollars of taxpayer money to fund a new soccer stadium. The bill, which will go to a city-wide vote this spring, proposes using a use tax raise to pay for the publicly funded portion of the stadium. The use tax is traditionally used to fund a few programs, including the Health Care Trust Fund (HCTF). St. Louis constantly tops the list for health inequalities; the life expectancy is 67 years of age for someone living just north of downtown while it is 82 for Chesterfield residents.
With that in mind, here are just a few things the money from the HCTF could be used on instead of a stadium:
Increase access to prenatal care for low-income parents. In some St. Louis neighborhoods, such as Hyde Park, the infant mortality rates are four times higher than the national average, paralleling those of lower income countries. At the national rate, African-American women are three times more likely to have a child die before their first birthday. Although St. Louis houses some of the most advanced hospitals, such as Barnes-Jewish, there are often many barriers to people receiving the care they need, particularly for low-income working parents. St. Louis would do well to open clinics and put prenatal specialists in neighborhoods such as Hyde Park.
Provide STI testing, sexual health services, and sexual education- particularly for youth. St. Louis is known for having some of the highest rates in chlamydia and gonorrhea, particularly among young people. Additionally, St. Louis qualifies as a “condom desert” with few stores that sell condoms in the city and many barriers to getting them, such as cost. St. Louis should work to ensure that sexuality educators are teaching medically accurate and comprehensive sex education in public schools. Increased free testing services, low-cost condoms, and more school-based clinics would also be a worthy investment for the city.
Create and implement a plan to address lead poisoning in buildings. At least 3,300 St. Louis children have toxic levels of lead in their blood. Exposure to lead can lead to many developmental issues, and poses a severe threat. In particular neighborhoods, such as Fairgrounds Park, 20 percent of children have elevated lead levels. Although Mayor Slay successfully worked to combat lead levels in the early 2000s and made progress through hiring a consultant and implementing a program, exposure rates have spiked again. The city has not received a grant to work on decreasing lead levels since 2014. The HCTF could be used to hire specialists, survey buildings, and remove lead from old homes, schools, and other buildings.
These are just three of the many ways we can use the increased use tax revenue to improve public health in our city. Check back later to see other ways we can use that money to improve racial and economic equity in St. Louis.
Elyse Vesser is a researcher, sex educator, and St. Louis City resident.