Thursday, May 19, 2016

Response from Tishaura O. Jones, St. Louis Treasurer Candidate

1. What do you view as the key role, and/or attributes needed for this position?

The Treasurer is the chief cash management and investment officer for the City of St. Louis. Per state statute, the treasurer is the parking supervisor, which includes management of all on-street, and some off-street assets. In 2014, the Treasurer added a new division, the Office of Financial Empowerment, which provides resources and programs to help citizens make better choices with their money.

2. What accomplishments are you most proud of from your tenure in this position so far?

First and foremost, I am most proud of taking the office from the 19th century to the 21st century by upgrading the parking technology and tightening our policies to make all employees accountable for their job responsibilities. Second, we renegotiated several contracts and saved the city over $500,000 per year. Third, the creation of the Office of Financial Empowerment has educated over 1,100 adults; opened checking and savings account for over 1,500 young adults; and opened college savings accounts for over 3,000 kindergartners in the city through the College Kids Children’s Savings Account Program. And last but certainly not least, the changes we made in the office regarding our fiscal management recently led to a credit upgrade from S&P from BBB+ to A-.

3. Why do you think you are the best person for this position?

When I ran for Treasurer in 2012, I promised 3 things: change, transparency and progress. In three short years, I delivered on all three promises. Other cities in the region are looking to our leadership in on-street parking; we post all of our proposals, press releases, investment reports, and financial audits online; and we are making real progress on financial literacy. So much so that we are a featured commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative with the Corporation for Enterprise Development’s Campaign for Every Kid’s Future and we were recently added to the exclusive Cities for Financial Empowerment Member Coalition.

4. What do you feel are the most pressing issues currently facing this office and what plans do you have to address these issues? (please be specific)

Our most pressing issue at the moment involves decisions on whether or not to build more public garages. We’ve been approached several times and unlike times past, our due diligence and research reveals that it’s not a good financial decision to build garages that do not generate enough revenue to sustain themselves. We have addressed this by making sure the feasibility studies are accurate and the pro-forma financial statements reveal that the facilities will not add an additional burden to the parking fund.

5. If the St. Louis City Earnings Tax would ever fail to be renewed, what broad-based, stable source of revenue would you recommend to fund quality, public services?

The broader question here is how we can find savings in city government. In the past 3 years, I have been privy to certain conversations about desperately needed upgrades to city systems that have not occurred. There are a lot of processes that can and should be automated due to recent advancements in technology and we have not taken advantage of them. We cannot keep using the same excuses of “we’ve always done it that way,” and expect a different result. That’s the definition of insanity. We should be making investments in technology platforms to help our local government deliver services in the most efficient way possible. Then maybe we won’t need to rely so heavily on the earnings tax. We should also take a serious look at our property tax structure, TIFs, development incentives, and why certain organizations don’t pay property taxes. In other large cities, large non-profit institutions pay property taxes or make a contribution to the city’s general revenue. Even in St. Louis County, the County Assessor removed the property tax-exempt status of non-profit nursing homes.

6. In your opinion, should the office of the Treasurer be in charge of the City of St. Louis Parking and/or the funds generated from the City of St. Louis Parking?

Initially, it was my opinion that the office of the Treasurer should not be in charge of the parking division. However, after a careful analysis, we discovered that the city’s credit rating would be in danger of being downgraded if the parking division was transferred back to the city. The parking division has over $70 million in outstanding debt tied to revenue strictly from parking revenue. Furthermore, the financial empowerment programs in the treasurer’s office are funded by a portion of the residual revenue. There’s no guarantee that these programs would be sustained if the parking division was returned to a city department.

7. Describe how you work with, or will work with, others to address your priorities.

Most of the programs in the Office of Financial Empowerment require us to establish partnerships with financial institutions or non-profit agencies. We partnered with five banks to contribute $180,000 to pay for the salary and benefits of the full-time employee that delivers financial literacy training in the office. Also, our yearly financial empowerment and job fair is a partnership between the United Way, the Urban League, SLATE, and many others. The College Kids program requires us to work closely with the St. Louis Public Schools, Charter schools, First Financial Federal Credit Union, and Wells Fargo. And, we collaborate with the Mayor’s office on the STL Youth Jobs program and adding St. Louis to the Cities for Financial Empowerment member coalition. Almost nothing happens in my office without collaborative effort.

8. Who are your 3 largest campaign contributors? Do you have a policy on accepting lobbyist gifts? Are there donors from whom you will not accept campaign contributions?

Anheuser-Busch, several unions, Hudson and Associates. Do you have a policy on accepting lobbyist gifts? My policy is the same as the city’s on accepting lobbyist gifts. All lobbyist gifts over $250 are reported to the Missouri Ethics Commission. Are there donors from who you will not accept campaign contributions? I will not accept money from Rex Sinquefeld.

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