Supporters and opponents of organized trash collection in St. Paul raised and spent almost identical amounts in the lead-up to last year's referendum, but opponents put most of their money into legal costs, campaign finance reports show.
St. Paul voters in November chose to continue citywide trash hauling by a nearly 2-1 ratio after a spirited campaign that transfixed the city for months.
The Vote Yes for St. Paul committee, which supported organized hauling, raised nearly $35,000 and spent about $30,000, leaving more than $4,000 cash on hand, according to a campaign finance report filed with Ramsey County on Tuesday. The group spent most of its money on communications, research and campaign materials, reports show.
Meanwhile, the St. Paul Trash Lawsuit PAC raised about $33,000, with nearly $24,000 going toward paying attorney's fees and less than $9,500 toward the campaign urging residents to vote against organized hauling.
"I don't think, had we spent 10 times that amount, we would have had a better outcome," said Peter Butler, St. Paul Trash Lawsuit treasurer/secretary. "I think we were just up against a number of factors that went against us."
Butler said the trash lawsuit group reached an agreement with attorney Greg Joseph to limit campaign spending to $10,000 and dedicate additional funds toward paying him. Donations came largely through yard signs, T-shirts and fundraisers in partnership with local businesses, Butler said.
Vote Yes for St. Paul's donors included Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher, City Council Member Rebecca Noecker, former Mayor Chris Coleman, the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and unions. Javier Morillo, chairman of the Yes for St. Paul campaign, could not be reached for comment.
Additional support for organized hauling came from the St. Paul DFL and community groups including faith-based coalition Isaiah, whose members reportedly knocked on 7,500 doors, texted more than 20,000 voters and made a "Vote Yes" video that was viewed more than 200,000 times.
St. Paul launched organized trash collection in October 2018, deploying private haulers to assigned portions of the city. Residents who preferred the old system, which allowed property owners to choose their own hauler, organized a petition and eventually filed a lawsuit to get organized trash on the ballot. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the city must allow residents to vote on the issue, and residents voted overwhelmingly to uphold the new system.
After the Supreme Court ruling, Mayor Melvin Carter said a "no" vote on organized hauling would leave the city holding a $27 million bill that would require a property tax increase.