St. Louis City County Merger — Are We Too Close to Be Objective?

St. Louis City County Merger — Are We Too Close to Be Objective?

Gary William Kreie

Do we believe the Koreas will be better off if they reunite?  North Koreans might say, “My thought-police brother would become unemployed, and there is more crime in South Korea that we don’t want here.”  South Koreans might say, “My taxes would go up to build roads in the North.”  But we would say to them — hey, Koreans, wake up! You’re missing the forest for the trees.  It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. Think longer term. Think how great a single United Korea could be for your children and grandchildren.

How about Germany?  They merged East and West Germany into one country again.  Has it been perfect?  No.  Is there a groundswell to go back to splitting into East and West Germany as separate countries again?  No.  They still believe their re-merged Germany is better.

So why do we think our own situation is different?  Why are so many St. Louisans so sure that if we merged the City and County, in ten years we would wish they were separate again?  Are we too close?  Are we missing the forest for the weeds?

No plan is perfect.  And we can still propose some changes before the vote.  But more importantly, we, our children, and our grandchildren will be able to make changes after the vote too.  For the whole region.  We could even decide it isn’t working and vote to split again — although no metro since 1876 has voted to go back to fragmentation as far as I know.  (Thank you 1876 ancestors. For nothing.)

And what about America itself.  This isn’t like re-merging a slave region and a non-slave region as we did in the Civil War.  We are not facing an issue anywhere near that magnitude.  Instead of slavery, our middling controversies just seem to be — do we want one person in charge of directing the police, or 50.  Do we let a politician stay in power at the top a few months longer or not.  What’s the best way to generate the same tax revenue.  Not exactly slavery-level issues. Think long term.

Maybe Better Together should have suggested we call ourselves The United States of Missouri, instead of just a new St. Louis.  It might have engendered a sort of patriotism for the region and more of a long term outlook.  We need a Hamilton to get us to see the value of becoming a single city just as the states joined to be a single nation — different than the old ways of Europe.  

And thank God Lewis and Clark didn’t come back from Louisiana territory and tell Jefferson he got hoodwinked, with words like: — 

“Hey, Thomas, don’t merge Louisiana into the rest of the country.  There is no water route to the Pacific, so there is no way these Western lands could ever be developed.  You’d have to have a science fiction miracle like a mechanical horse that uses belly fire to roll on some kind of level track to get people and supplies to the Western lands.  Yeah, like that would ever happen.  There are big mountains in the way.  Yep, Tom, sell it back. Sell it back now before Napoleon realizes it’s a lemon.  Merging our country with that great desert would just drag these seventeen United States of America to ruin.”  – Lewis and Clark

It is astonishing how many government agencies in St. Louis — special, local, state, and federal — already serve the whole region effectively merged without regard to city/county lines.  Here are just some of the government agencies that I thought of.   I’m sure there are more.  

  • Metropolitan Sewer District
  • Great Rivers Greenway
  • Zoo, Museums, Science Center, Symphony
  • Forest Park
  • Gateway Arch
  • Amazon Pitch
  • NGA Pitch
  • St. Louis Area DOT, Highways, Interstates
  • Major Case Squad
  • East-West Gateway Council of Governments
  • School Exchanges
  • Libraries
  • Metro Buses
  • Congressional Districts
  • Convention Center
  • Domed Stadium
  • Explore St. Louis
  • St. Louis River Port Authority
  • St. Louis Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis
  • Weather Bureau
  • St. Louis region NLRB
  • Missouri Conservation Department – St. Louis
  • Missouri State Parks and Historic Sites – St. Louis Region
  • US Small Business Administration – St. Louis
  • St. Louis District US Army Corps of Engineers
  • St. Louis Federal Reserve
  • Federal Courts
  • St. Louis local FAA
  • Airport  
  • University of Missouri – St. Louis
  • St. Louis Community College

In fact, there are only a few parts of government left to merge, namely local political fiefdoms, taxing areas, and crime prevention. But those are the ones holding back the entire region.

Imagine that we do nothing.  We wait another 30-40 years until another generation, or maybe two more generations, come and go.  We become our parents and grandparents who tried to merge but failed, and watched their kids choose jobs in more forward-looking cities whose past leaders didn’t make the mistakes ours made.  Those cities are better set with broad reach governments to quickly represent the concensus of the region when going after big opportunities or addressing big regional issues to make the lives of their future citizens better.  And they control resources at a high regional level to be able to follow through on big promises.  We will stay the forgotten rust belt town know nationally only for crime, and only visited by national media when we have a major crime, large disaster, or they need a feel-good story about someone beating the odds of actually living in this place.

Now Imagine a merged St. Louis ten years from now where the word is out about us. Average full metro home value (currently $167,100 per Zillow) climbs to merely the current level of metro Minneapolis ($269,200 per Zillow), say.  The approximately one million metro area homes would add over $100 billion in appraised wealth to current homeowners. School tax rates could be lowered to raise the same amount of money. A newly merged St. Louis would be in line to be the next hot city on the national stage.  Our kids choose to live here.

If we merge now, the mere fact that this generation finally got accomplished what previous generations had failed to do so many times, would impart a new vigor into the whole region.  St. Louis City could again be the flagship for not only our great metro, but the entire Midwest, at the confluence of ideas and actions from North and South, as well as East and West.  We are the place of great conflict, great invention, and great discussion for the nation. Dred Scott, Rock and Roll, Black Lives Matter. We have the leaders. We just need a structure that let’s them lead.  

St. Louis needs to join the list of cities the nation sees as a truly great place to live and work.  Think Long Term. See the entire forest. Merge the City and the County into a single great American city.