Eastern District Issues Landmark Decision Upholding The Power Of Home Rule Cities To Tax Without A Grant From General Assembly

St Louis

The opinion in Neuner v City of St. Louis is one for the ages.  It is the most significant opinion, with respect to constitutional home rule powers, since the adoption of the 1971 amendmenOnt to the Missouri Constitution granting constitutional home rule cities all powers that the general assembly could grant that are not denied by its charter or by statute.  This opinion is extremely well reasoned and written (brilliant) and should (hopefully) withstand the scrutiny of the Missouri Supreme Court.

Article 6, Section 19(a) grants to constitutional home rule cities all the powers that the general assembly has the power to confer unless limited by its charter or by statute.

The question: Are the power in Article 6, Section 19(a) limited by Article 10, Section 1 of the Missouri Constitution, which provides that the taxing power of political subdivisions may only be exercised “under power granted to them by the general assembly”?  The 2017 opinion by the Western District in Neuner v City of St. Louis answers this question by concluding that Article 6, Section 19(a) is not limited by Article 10, Section 1, thereby, answering one of the most perplexing questions for municipal attorneys.

There are three parts to the Court’s opinion.  First, there is a historical analysis, which conclusively shows that the drafters of the 1875 Missouri Constitution did not intend Article 10, Section 1 to limit the taxing power of the City of St. Louis as a city authorized to adopt its own charter, provided that the city charter included provisions for such taxation.  This view prevailed for 64 years until 1943 when the Missouri Supreme Court reversed its earlier opinions by holding that the charter provisions that authorized the City to tax without a grant to tax from the General Assembly to the City of St. Louis were limited by Article 10 Section 1.  The Missouri Supreme Court did not discuss any of the pre-1943 opinions other than to simply overrule a 1933 opinion.  The 1943 opinion and subsequent opinions prevailed until 2017, at which time the Eastern District concluded in Neuner v City of St. Louis that the home rule city constitutional amendment in 1971 allowed constitutional home rule cities to tax without a grant of power to tax from the general assembly.

What does this mean? 

The most obvious is that when faced with problems   requiring a revenue source constitutional home rule cities in Missouri  (approximately 43 cities) have the power to provide funds through taxation to solve these problems subject to approval of a tax by the voters. This has the effect of unleashing the full creative power of  constitutional home rule cities to solve problems.

To read the full analysis of the opinion see my full Post in the October issue of the Missouri Municipal Attorneys Newsletter by clicking  here.

Howard Wright© 2017

Appeals in Neuter v City of St. Louis,  have now but exhausted making the above decision final since the Missouri Supreme Court did not cause case to be transferred to the Supreme Court.

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