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How the 4 candidates for St. Louis mayor hope to tackle the city's budget struggles

Four candidates made the ballot for the March 2 primary election, which will determine which two will square off in the April 6 general election
Credit: SLBJ

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson's decision not to seek re-election to a second term means that someone new will inherit the city's complicated budget struggles. Four candidates made the ballot for the March 2 primary election, which will determine which two will square off in the April 6 general election.

We asked all four candidates how they will manage the pension system — one of the city's largest annual fixed costs — and how they will balance any spending needs against the city's limited ability to raise new revenue. Here's what they had to say.

CARA SPENCER | Ward 20 alderwoman

Do you support the effort to change control of the firefighter pension board? Yes. Recently, an effort has been made to streamline a collection of pension systems under one board and this is a solution to having two pension systems, which doubles the administrative cost.

The city's annual payments to its pension systems are considered "high," according to its budget director. Would you explore reforms to those systems, beyond former Mayor Francis Slay's reforms to the firefighter system? Pensions are a significant cost to the city, a cost which is increasing over time. As we look at the budget, especially post-Covid, we will have tough decisions in the years ahead. It's important to find cost savings where we can, like streamlining systems, but reforms of all kinds to all aspects of city government will have to be explored to maintain fiscal solvency, which will be my priority moving through these decisions.

The city is restricted from raising significant new revenues by state law and constitution. As each candidate promises new spending in various areas, how would you raise the required money to accomplish those goals? We have to position our region for growth. The St. Louis region has stagnated for four decades and the population has slid westward, hollowing out our urban core. Until we address the underlying issues of violent crime and poverty, our community will not flourish. Under my 10-step crime plan, we will start to address violence, build trust and make St. Louis a place for the nation to invest in.

LEWIS REED | President, Board of Aldermen

Do you support the effort to change control of the firefighter pension board? Yes, I support the effort to do some good governance and save the city some administrative costs for the pension board. The next mayor of the city of St. Louis must develop a plan for economic growth so that we can sustain basic benefits for our employees.

The city's annual payments to its pension systems are considered "high," according to its budget director. Would you explore reforms to those systems, beyond former Mayor Francis Slay's reforms to the firefighter system? As mayor I would continuously look at our overall finances relative to what we need to serve residents. I don’t believe we go back on any agreements we’ve made with current vested employees, but newly hired and future hires pension program changes may be something we should look at, or the data may show recent hires are not staying with the city long enough to ever create much of a pension burden at all. In order to truly grow and survive as a city, we have to do more than look at what budget items to cut, and find ways to increase our revenue. Our financial survival can’t be based on breaking promises to employees.

The city is restricted from raising significant new revenues by state law and constitution. As each candidate promises new spending in various areas, how would you raise the required money to accomplish those goals? First, we must sustain our local economy through the Covid-related economic downturn. Then we need to increase our tax base by growing our small businesses and draw more activity to the city. I would seek to bring in larger businesses that have jobs that are readily available to city residents. That way we receive the economic benefit of the business itself, along with the economic benefit of having more gainfully employed citizens. The city must focus heavily on strategic and equitable economic growth to create more revenue. 

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