Rex Sinquefield is a remarkable man. Raised in an orphans’ home, educated in parochial schools and then the University of Chicago, he made a fortune the new-fashioned way by managing other people’s money, billions of it.
Since he retired and came home to St. Louis, with his wife Jeanne, he has donated heavily to child welfare programs, financed a chess club that just landed next year’s national tournament and founded a think tank. Jeanne Sinquefield, who heads the couple’s charitable foundation, is underwriting the New Music Initiative here at MU.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, though, Mr. Sinquefield’s interests extend beyond philanthropy. Like many self-made men, he thinks he knows what’s best for others – in his case the state of Missouri. He has the resources to back up his beliefs.
So he has underwritten the so-far-failed effort to weaken our public schools by state-financed vouchers. He funded the campaign against raising the state’s minimum wage, another failed effort. He has formed more than 100 political action committees, for the avowed purpose of getting around campaign donation limits, which he also opposes. His think tank churns out right-wing policy papers, including a recent one titled “Why a sales tax is better for Missouri than an income tax.”
His political clout is likely to be even greater in the next legislature. He has already given at least $200,000 to the presumptive next speaker of the House, Steve Tilley, and even more to other Republican campaign committees.
And now comes Proposition A, which will confront us on the Nov. 2 ballot. This might more accurately be called the Sinquefield Proposition. It proposes to destroy the finances of the state’s two biggest cities, while denying to any other city the right to tap the earnings of those who use city services while avoiding the burden of helping to pay for those services.
That’s not what the formal ballot language of the proposition says, of course. That’s merely what it would do.
If Proposition A passes, the citizens of St. Louis and Kansas City would have to vote next year on whether to retain the 1 percent tax on earnings that funds *$137.5 million of the city budget in St. Louis. In Kansas City, the budget hit would be $202 million. Other cities would be prohibited forever from even voting on whether to impose such a tax.
Proposition A was bought and paid for by Rex Sinquefield. The Post-Dispatch calculates that he paid an average of almost $5 for each signature collected by mercenaries to put it on the ballot, and he has contributed, so far, $6.8 million to the campaign to get it passed.
Mr. Sinquefield says he isn’t out to cripple local governments. He says he is agnostic on the question of how to replace the lost revenue. But remember the title of that Show-Me Institute policy paper. The sales tax is notoriously regressive, shifting the burden disproportionately from the richest to the poorest among us.
An even more important objection to the Sinquefield reshaping of our state is the one raised last month by a Post-Dispatch editorial: “Is a multimillion-dollar campaign funded by a wealthy individual – based on economic theory that is questionable at best – good for democracy?”
The question, it seems to me, answers itself. The answer is No.
So far, most of Mr. Sinquefield’s attempts to buy public policy have failed. It remains to be seen what he’ll get for his investment in the legislature. We voters have a chance Nov. 2 to reject his latest meddling in our affairs. We should do just that.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.