Walter Johnson Explains why Ferguson, Missouri—a City That Hosts a Fortune 500 Company—Relies on Municipal Fees and Fines to Extract Revenue from Its Poorest Residents

Ferguson_MissouriSealBy Elaine Magliaro

Walter Johnson has an interesting article about Ferguson, Missouri, over at The Atlantic. In it, he explains why—despite the fact that the city hosts a multinational Fortune 500 company—it “relied on municipal fees and fines to extract revenue from its poorest residents.”

Johnson begins his piece by taking readers down West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson.

Johnson:

Head south of the burned-out Quik Trip and the famous McDonalds, south of the intersection with Chambers, south almost to the city limit, to the corner of Ferguson Avenue and West Florissant. There, last August, Emerson Electric announced third-quarter sales of $6.3 billion. Just over half a mile to the northeast, four days later, Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown. The 12 shots fired by Officer Wilson were probably audible in the company lunchroom.

Outwardly, at least, the City of Ferguson would appear to occupy an enviable position. It is home to a Fortune 500 firm. It has successfully revitalized a commercial corridor through its downtown. It hosts an office park filled with corporate tenants. Its coffers should be overflowing with tax dollars.

Instead, the cash-starved municipality relies on its cops and its courts to extract millions in fines and fees from its poorest residents, issuing thousands of citations each year. Those tickets plug a financial hole created by the ways in which the city, the county, and the state have chosen to apportion the costs of public services. A century or more of public-policy choices protect the wallets of largely white business and property owners and pass the bills along to disproportionately black renters and local residents. It’s easy to see the drama of a fatal police shooting, but harder to understand the complexities of municipal finances that created many thousands of hostile encounters, one of which turned fatal.

Johnson said that the “familiar convention of the true-crime story turns out to be utterly inadequate for describing the social, economic, and legal subjection of black people in Ferguson, or anywhere in America.” He added, “Understanding this requires looking beyond the 90-second drama to the 90 years of entrenched white supremacy and black disadvantage that preceded it.”

In his article, Johnson talked about the findings of the Ferguson investigation conducted by the Justice Department. He said that the DOJ had traced the problems in Ferguson “to a lack of training, supervision, and oversight, exacerbated by shoddy record-keeping and clear racial bias.” Johnson noted, however, that there was one question the report didn’t address: “How can all this be happening in a community that is home to a Fortune 500 company? Why is the city government filling out its budget with municipal court fines when Emerson Electric is doing $24 billion a year in business out of its headquarters on West Florissant Avenue?”

According to Johnson, the city of Ferguson “is extraordinarily constrained in its ability to pay for the services that its residents require” because municipal tax revenue is limited by the Missouri constitution. He explained: “In 1980, Representative Mel Hancock—the founder of a group called the Taxpayer Survival Association—wrote an amendment that required any increase of local taxes, licenses, or fees to be approved by a citywide referendum, with very few exceptions. Along with gun-license fees, which are explicitly exempted from the provisions of the ‘Hancock Amendment,’ municipal fines provide Missouri cities with one of the few sources of revenue they can expand without a referendum.”

In his article Ferguson’s Fortune 500 Company, Johnson goes into detail about the city’s history of segregation, restrictive zoning, urban renewal (“black removal with white approval”), Enhanced Enterprise Zones, tax increment financing (TIF), municipal bonds, regressive taxes, government spending, corporate philanthropy, and the connections between race and real estate.

Johnson:

The story of Emerson Electric’s disappearing data center and the financial malfeasance of the Ferguson city government shows how tools of governance that were intended to harness the power of the market to advance racial equality have often had the opposite effect. In Ferguson, TIF bonds are serviced by regressive taxes and fines levied on black motorists. In Ferguson, commercial real-estate taxes are so low that a Fortune 500 company foregoes tax abatements in the name of fairness, while the city taxes the consumption of ordinary consumers to fill its coffers and those who cannot afford to pay their fines go to jail. In Ferguson, economic development has been collateralized by the citizenry.

 

Click on the link to read Ferguson’s Fortune 500 Company: Why the Missouri city—despite hosting a multinational corporation—relied on municipal fees and fines to extract revenue from its poorest residents.

This entry was posted in American History, Civil Liberties, Democracy, Economics, Equal Rights, Law Enforcement, Local Government, Missouri, Political Science, Racism, Society, Sociology, United States and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Walter Johnson Explains why Ferguson, Missouri—a City That Hosts a Fortune 500 Company—Relies on Municipal Fees and Fines to Extract Revenue from Its Poorest Residents

  1. bron98 says:

    the people in Ferguson vote for this crap. you get the government you deserve.

  2. Elaine M. says:

    bron,

    Did you read my post–in particular this part?:

    According to Johnson, the city of Ferguson “is extraordinarily constrained in its ability to pay for the services that its residents require” because municipal tax revenue is limited by the Missouri constitution. He explained: “In 1980, Representative Mel Hancock—the founder of a group called the Taxpayer Survival Association—wrote an amendment that required any increase of local taxes, licenses, or fees to be approved by a citywide referendum, with very few exceptions. Along with gun-license fees, which are explicitly exempted from the provisions of the ‘Hancock Amendment,’ municipal fines provide Missouri cities with one of the few sources of revenue they can expand without a referendum.”

  3. bron98 says:

    Elaine:

    Maybe I am wrong but wouldn’t a referendum be placed on a ballot? wouldn’t it behoove the people of Ferguson to vote for people who would support said referendum and have it placed on a ballot during an election year or even call for a special election if the bylaws of the town permit?

    Do you think black people aren’t intelligent enough to take care of business? Maybe I am missing something but at some point blacks need to start taking responsibility for their problems. White privilege doesn’t exist in many floundering African nations, although I blame socialism/collectivism for that. well come to think of it, I blame the same thing here in the states. White privilege is actually liberal/socialist do [not] gooders trying to ruin a people for the purpose of power.

    White privilege doesn’t seem to exist in sports and entertainment, blacks compete perfectly well and make big money. At some point you have to look in the mirror and say, this is my fault I cant blame the crackers anymore for my failing.

    Baltimore is run by blacks, Detroit was run by blacks, most likely on a liberal/socialist model so personally I think what blacks need to do is look in the mirror and say that shit [liberalism/socialism] isn’t working for us so let’s try something else.

    I could say black privilege is keeping me down, they get 8a contracts and I cant even though I am economically disadvantaged by virtue of my physical limitations. the 8a program only recognizes service disabled people. which is fine but disabled people in general are not doing well financially and are discriminated against thanks to the ADA. As I always say, the curb cuts are nice.

  4. swarthmoremom says:

    bron, “White privilege doesn’t exist in many floundering African nations, although I blame socialism/collectivism for that.” Really, ever hear of colonialism?

  5. Elaine M. says:

    bron,

    Did you read Johnson’s entire article? The author provides an in-depth look at what has happened in Ferguson over the course of nearly a hundred years.

  6. bettykath says:

    Racism is systemic. This is an example. “A century or more of public-policy choices protect the wallets of largely white business and property owners and pass the bills along to disproportionately black renters and local residents.” And they have a class of thugs, er, cops and judges, to enforce the financing of the city services.

  7. bron98 says:

    colonialism sure, that ended 50 years ago. And Africa has been a festering shit hole of socialism and communism ever since with 2 bit dictators and corruption on a grand scale. No white doing that, just the same kind of politician like Pelosi or Clinton acting as they would if there were no restraints to their power.

    Liberals have been using the black man for 50 years, keeping him down and telling him he isn’t good enough to make it without help. I think finally blacks are figuring that con out and now the liberals are currying favor with Hispanics for raw, naked power.

  8. bron98 says:

    Elaine:

    big government always protects the rich. it isn’t coincidence that the income tax and the federal reserve were created at about the same time.

  9. Elaine M. says:

    bron,

    The United States has been involved in assassinations and the overthrowing of duly elected heads of state of other countries over the years. Remember what happened in Iran? Our country has propped up ruthless dictators when it served US purposes. Colonial powers raped African countries of their natural resources and subjugated the native populations.. Of course, the effects of decades/centuries of colonialism are a breeze to overcome.

    *****

    Patrice Lumumba: the most important assassination of the 20th century
    The US-sponsored plot to kill Patrice Lumumba, the hero of Congolese independence, took place 50 years ago today
    1/17/2011
    http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/jan/17/patrice-lumumba-50th-anniversary-assassination

    Excerpt:
    Patrice Lumumba, the first legally elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was assassinated 50 years ago today, on 17 January, 1961. This heinous crime was a culmination of two inter-related assassination plots by American and Belgian governments, which used Congolese accomplices and a Belgian execution squad to carry out the deed.

    Ludo De Witte, the Belgian author of the best book on this crime, qualifies it as “the most important assassination of the 20th century”. The assassination’s historical importance lies in a multitude of factors, the most pertinent being the global context in which it took place, its impact on Congolese politics since then and Lumumba’s overall legacy as a nationalist leader.

    For 126 years, the US and Belgium have played key roles in shaping Congo’s destiny. In April 1884, seven months before the Berlin Congress, the US became the first country in the world to recognise the claims of King Leopold II of the Belgians to the territories of the Congo Basin.

    When the atrocities related to brutal economic exploitation in Leopold’s Congo Free State resulted in millions of fatalities, the US joined other world powers to force Belgium to take over the country as a regular colony. And it was during the colonial period that the US acquired a strategic stake in the enormous natural wealth of the Congo, following its use of the uranium from Congolese mines to manufacture the first atomic weapons, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.

    *****

    CIA finally admits it masterminded Iran’s 1953 coup
    http://rt.com/usa/iran-coup-cia-operation-647/

  10. Mike Spindell says:

    “colonialism sure, that ended 50 years ago. And Africa has been a festering shit hole of socialism and communism ever since”

    Bron,
    You’ve got it wrong there is neither communism, nor socialism in Africa. In most country’s there we see he end game of the Libertarian ideal.

  11. bron98 says:

    they have governments in most African nations. Most of those governments are collectivist. I.e. socialist or communist or fascist or some combination [which doesn’t really matter].

    Isnt it funny how progressive ideology took over the reigns of power around the beginning of the last century and we have seen all this hell.

  12. B.,

    Again you illustrate a fundamental misunderstanding of terms. Fascism isn’t collectivist, it’s oligarchical. Also, democracy is a collectivist form as well. If you’re going to whine about something, it works better if you understand the terms you are using.

    In addition, the notion that progressive ideology took the reigns of power anywhere but in the Scandinavian countries is simply counter-factual. Progressives certainly aren’t in charge here. If they were, Bush/Cheney Inc. would be in prison for treason and Obama would have been impeached for suggesting that he has the right to unilaterally target and kill American citizens without due process and we’d have universal healthcare and nationalized energy companies.

  13. Mike Spindell says:

    Bron,
    Isn’t it funny that your ideology took power in 1980 with Ronald Reagan and we have seen all this hell? Or maybe you think the economy collapsing, the diminishing of the middle class and three wars was a good thing. All of those things brought about by ideology that is strangely similar to yours.

  14. bron98 says:

    they have governments in most African nations. Most of those governments are collectivist. I.e. socialist or communist or fascist or some combination [which doesn’t really matter].

    Isnt it funny how progressive ideology took over the reigns of power around the beginning of the last century and we have seen all this hell.

    I think progressivism/liberalism is a big hoax, it never works, it makes people hate each other, it has killed upward of 100 million people and it appeals to starry eyed dreamers like Mao, Hitler and Stalin.

  15. bron98 says:

    Mike:

    Bush is one of your boys, not mine. Bush is a progressive; TARP, medicare expansion, no child left behind, and many other things point to him being a progressive. His policy of Just War could be taken from a progressive playbook.

    Philosophically, he is much closer to you than to me.

  16. Elaine M. says:

    Bush’s No Child Left Behind is not progressive. It’s regressive–just like Obama’s Race to the Top.

  17. Projection in the morning . . . smells . . . just like denial.

  18. Elaine M. says:

    Gene,

    Didn’t you know that Hitler ia one of the world’s most celebrated liberals?

  19. Yep. Him and Noam Chomsky are famous for their cuddle parties at Hitler’s secret hideout in South America. They order pizza, wear footy pajamas and braid each others hair while singing “We Shall Overcome”.

    And one more thing, B. Bush’s policy wasn’t a Just War policy. It was a Preemptive War for Personal Profits policy. Under the Just War theory, after 9/11 we’d have gone to war with Afghanistan (where the terrorists trained) and Saudi Arabia (who supplied the money and the men via unofficial sanction). Iraq, despite what most people easily susceptible to propaganda might think, had nothing to do with 9/11 let alone any WMDs. They also didn’t sponsor terrorist groups or religious groups as both would have posed an domestic threat to Saddam’s power base as a secular totalitarian in the mode of a cult of personality. Bush’s policy is fascist in that it is militaristic, aggressive, imperialistic and geared toward industry profits and regional aspirations over wise national policy that considers the needs of our nation first and the demands of corporate balance sheets second. At this point, I will pause to remind you that fascism and socialism are diametrically opposed political philosophies despite any delusion you might have to the contrary. Call it a policy of preemptive error correction.

  20. Oh, and the play was straight from the PNAC playbook by the way. A neoconservative group of fascists enamored with the Austrian school of economics so favored by your goddess Ayn.

    I know, I know. It must suck to realize you are philosophically in bed with the bad guys, but the sooner you come to grips with it, B., the sooner you can grow and move on with your life. Your bad ideas of choice can be undone unlike their bad actions taken in furtherance of those bad ideas.

  21. bron98 says:

    I know, I know. It must suck to realize you are philosophically in bed with the bad guys, but the sooner you come to grips with it, G., the sooner you can grow and move on with your life. Your bad ideas of choice can be undone unlike their bad actions taken in furtherance of those bad ideas.

  22. Sorry, but Bush’s policies were demonstrably drawn from the thought of people you admire, B.

    “I know you are but what am I” won’t work in this instance.

    You feel free to keep your bad ideas all you like because over the years you’ve often demonstrated that they are not ideas so much as beliefs. As Chris Rock noted in Dogma:

    Rufus: He still digs humanity, but it bothers Him to see the shit that gets carried out in His name – wars, bigotry, televangelism. But especially the factioning of all the religions. He said humanity took a good idea and, like always, built a belief structure on it.

    Bethany: Having beliefs isn’t good?

    Rufus: I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier…

    Or . . . here’s a thought, you might want to examine what your preferred “philosophy” of Objectivism has wrought as applied by the likes of Reagan and the Bush Clan. I know you want a better world, but those same ideas you are so enamored with have led directly to where we are today. The selfishness, egotism and worship of money Objectivism encourages is what led us here, not a sense of shared sacrifice and doing what is best for the community as a whole. It is no myth that the Austrian school, Objectivism and both neoconservatism and neoliberalism all share a nexus of selfishness rooted in that poisonous ideal of Rand. So you go right on ahead and play your “I know you are” game.

    You’re fooling no one but yourself.

    Oh, and other Objectivists and Libertarians. But then again, you may not be fooling them either. “I’m the center of the universe and the metric by which all is judged” is an appealing notion to some. Wrong, certainly. But appealing. Just like a flame appeals to a moth.

  23. bron98 says:

    Sorry, but Bush’s policies were demonstrably drawn from the thought of people you admire, B.

    See, that is your problem, you are totally unaware or unwilling to admit that what Bush did was on the left side of the aisle. just as are the neocons and there ideology. I could give you quotes such as this from neocons-“Daniel Bell captured the syncretic nature of neoconservatism when he described himself as a “socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture.””

    or this: “neocons support, in the words of Ben Wattenberg, a “muscular role for the state,”

    or this: “Norman Podhoretz, for instance, has argued that neoconservative statesmen should be able to figure out the “precise point at which the incentive to work” would be “undermined by the availability of welfare benefits, or the point at which the redistribution of income” would begin “to erode economic growth, or the point at which egalitarianism” would come “into serious conflict with liberty.””

    I have seen you spew crap like that and the pragmatism and syncretism you speak about? May as well be coming from Leo Strauss himself.

    And then there is this:
    “The neoconservative vision of a good America is one in which ordinary people work hard, read the Bible, go to church on Sunday, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, practice homespun virtues, sacrifice themselves to the “common good,” obey the commands of the government, fight wars, and die for the State. . . . In summary, the neoconservatives are the advocates of a new managerial State—a State controlled and regulated by a new mandarin class of conservative virtucrats who think the American people are incapable of governing themselves without the help of the neocons’ special, a priori wisdom.”
    —From Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea

    There is no difference, you and the neocons think that government should be used to control the individual, to make him act in ways that you think are in the best interest of the collective.

    You are exactly the same at your core. You and all the other lefties. just like socialism and fascism are similar so are your ideals and those of neoconservatism. that you cant see that is your problem, not mine. They say you hate most in others what you wont admit to yourself. PNAC and Flowers for Socrates, a true philosophical match.

  24. Utter nonsense other than neoconservatism is syncretic. Of course neoconservatism is syncretic. It’s just thinly disguised fascism to begin with. But syncreticism in itself isn’t a bad feature of an ideological system. That simply means the ideology is neither purely right nor left. I know that just upsets the applecart in your binary perception of the world, but you’ll just have to deal with syncreticism being a value neutral term in and of itself.

    As for control? I don’t think the government should control the individual. I understand the social compact theory of government. Why would I think the government should control the individual beyond enforcing the limitation on absolute freedoms found in the state of nature as defined under the social compact? I think the government should serve the interests of all citizens over the interests of the few or legal fictions and their desire for profits, but that only makes me a small “D” democrat instead of some form of oligarchical supporter.

    However, thanks for illustrating the backwards nature in which you think with a high degree of precision. Bush is about as leftist as Attila the Hun. This is what observation tells me. You, in contrast, start with a premise: everything on the left is evil. Then you try to make the world fit your theory instead of seeing the world as it is. Data informs theory, theory doesn’t inform data . . . unless you are using the scientific method exactly backwards.

    That’s how you so very often come up with the notion that antithetical and/or mutually exclusive ideas or terms are equivalent.

    You can try to badmouth me personally or this blog all you like, B. This is about your ideas, nominally of choice, and how they work in when put into practice. Your attack won’t change that the kinds of policy your ideology of choice endorse were the primary driver that created the current state of things. You can change your ideas. You cannot change your ideas once you have acted upon them though. That may not be possible though in your case. You have always shown the signs that Objectivism is less philosophy and more a religion for you.

    “I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier… ”

    In no small part because changing your ideas would require that you remove you from the center of the universe and find another principle other than selfishness as a virtue to justify some of your positions. Because who wants to change when you can rationalize away behavior that is harmful to others (and to the self ultimately)? Almost no one wants to be the bad guy, even by accident. To realize and acknowledge that Objectivism rests at the heart of neoconservatism and neoliberalism and the Austrian school and that all three of these factors have been eating away at individual liberty to concentrate power in the hands of an oligarchical few would require you to recognize that you may be one of the bad guys in thought if not in action.

    I don’t think you’re a bad guy, B.
    I think you’re a good guy with bad ideas.
    Prove me wrong.

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