Judge Rules Again with Peabody

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 27, 2014

Contact: Arielle Klagsbrun, 617 869 8345, [email protected]

Take Back St. Louis Statement Regarding Judge’s Ruling on Permanent Injunction

Today, Judge Dierker ruled with the plaintiffs in passing a permanent injunction on the Take Back St. Louis initiative, saying that the initiative conflicts with state law on the regulation of TIFs (tax increment financing) and Special Business District financing. In response, Take Back St. Louis has issued the following statement.

We are deeply disappointed that the Judge chose to side with the corporate plaintiffs over the people. The Judge’s decision rests on the nuances of state-level TIF (tax increment financing) and Special Business District law. While the Judge asserts that any local direction on these tax breaks conflicts with state law, the Take Back St. Louis campaign strongly contends that the Mayor’s office everyday directs and makes judgments on who gets tax breaks in the City of St. Louis. An average person does not have the same shot at a tax break in this City as a billion-dollar corporation. The Take Back St. Louis initiative was initially conceived of to correct the Mayor’s failings in gouging the St. Louis public schools and other public programs in order to subsidize corporations.

Throughout the Take Back St. Louis campaign, we have seen just how far the Mayor will go to protect corporations, particularly Peabody Coal. In recent documents acquired by the Take Back St. Louis campaign through Sunshine laws, we have found that since 2012, the Mayor’s office was working with Peabody Coal in order to stop the Take Back St. Louis initiative. In fact, in July 2013, Fred Palmer, Peabody’s chief lobbyist, even ordered the Mayor’s office to “prepare a draft action plan related to the petition” and sent a number of talking points to the Mayor regarding Take Back St. Louis, many of which the Mayor has adopted in the last year.

This collusion between Peabody and the Mayor could be seen in the recent legal proceedings when the city counselor, technically a defendant in the case, was actively working with Peabody’s attorneys in the court room. In the past month, the Mayor went even further in his attempts to protect Peabody Coal. He worked with Peabody lobbyists to draft and pass Senate Bill 672 last week, which included an amendment to stop the regulation of public financial incentives to coal companies passed by ballot initiative in the City of St. Louis. It is interesting to note that the definition of public financial incentive in the amendment includes both TIFs and Special Business Districts. The Mayor’s office would not have spent time and effort actively lobbying state legislators if they did not think there was an opening on appeal around the Judge’s interpretation of TIF law.

The judge also opined that the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution - which was passed after the Civil War to protect the rights of newly-freed slaves - prevents the people of St. Louis from voting on the initiative. The opinion cites the infamous Citizens United decision to suggest that coal companies have the same rights as people, which effectively means that corporate tax breaks are off-limits for voters. Before the people even had an opportunity to vote, the judge decided that fossil fuel energy companies and their major business partners are entitled to judicial protection from the democratic process. It is unusual in itself that this ruling would occur before residents even had a chance to vote on the initiative. Usually, initiatives go before voters and legal proceedings happen if the initiative passes.

In the meantime, the organizations active in Take Back St. Louis will continue to support those who organize against unsustainable energy producers like Peabody Coal, while simultaneously holding the St. Louis Development Corporation accountable for creating living wage, sustainable jobs. The legal challenge will continue and head to the appeals court. For the 22,000 registered voters who signed their petition, about the same number as who voted in the last City General Election, they will be denied a voice at the polls for a few more months. We are confident that the Court of Appeals will uphold democracy, and that Take Back St. Louis will be on the ballot in August or November.

Copies of communications between the Mayor’s Office and Peabody are available upon request. The Judge’s ruling is available here.

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