Just minutes after the All-Star Game ended Tuesday night, I tweeted a thank you to Mayor Sly James for his passionate work on behalf of Kansas City during the recent festivities.
By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH
The Kansas City Star
At the end of the social media message, I added a nudge: “Next up: More challenges.”
That was a reference to the two important issues on the Aug. 7 ballot: City Hall wants voters to approve a permanent half-cent sales tax increase and $500 million in sewer bonds.
To my mild surprise — hey, the guy deserved some rest after his nonstop pumping up of the city’s attributes for the nation to see — James replied: “success 2.”
The mayor was promoting the hopeful view that voters will embrace both election items.
I tapped back my feelings: “ ‘Yes’ on sewers, but still evaluating that sales tax idea.”
James: “Always open to better ideas on how to get things done, Yael. Got one for me?”
Me: “Guessing that ‘live within City Hall’s means’ is out?”
The mayor’s last tweet: “I guess it depends on what ‘live’ means. If it means don’t fix, repair or improve, that’s a choice people can make.”
Yes, voters will make that decision in less than a month.
Here are some factors that must be considered.
• The proposed sales tax increase would give Kansas City one of the highest rates in the area by mid-2013.
The tax rate in the large part of Kansas City that’s in Jackson County would jump to 8.35 percent.
It would be 8.475 percent in the part of the city that’s in Platte County.
And it would be 8.1 percent in Clay County.
By comparison, the sales tax is 7.725 percent in most of Independence and Lee’s Summit.
Across the state line, some of the current sales tax rates in the largest cities already are far above 8 percent. Here’s the big caveat: The state of Kansas is scheduled to reduce its rate by .6 percent next July.
That would cut the sales tax rate to 8.05 percent in most of Overland Park, Olathe and Leawood, giving them a small competitive advantage over Kansas City. Kansas City, Kan., would be at 8.325 percent.
On the plus side, plenty of people don’t pay much attention to sales taxes when they shop.
Then again, the new tax in Kansas City would raise $34 million extra each year. Kansas City residents would pay an estimated two-thirds of that amount, or around $22 million more annually, with visitors paying the rest.
• The tax increase election also calls for several reductions in property taxes on Kansas City homeowners and businesses.
The total savings would be $10 million a year.
Do some quick math: If the sales tax means higher taxes of $22 million a year, subtracting the property tax breaks would result in a total tax increase of “only” $12 million or so on Kansas Citians.
Promoters say that’s a good reform for residents.
Yet it also might not be enough to get excited about, especially for renters.
• Does the city have the right priorities for how it would spend the extra money from the sales tax (minus the property tax givebacks)?
This is the toughest question to answer at this point.
The bulk of the new revenue would flow in two directions.
The Parks and Recreation Department certainly wants the tax to pass, because it could gain about $3 million a year. But even that boost wouldn’t make a huge difference in the agency’s activities.
In addition, the city pledges it would spend an extra $15 million a year of tax revenues on street maintenance. This is a basic service that’s been ignored for too long.
Yet city officials acknowledge the new money still wouldn’t make a big dent in the backlog of street repairs.
As for sales tax opponents, making the city live within its means is a powerful argument right now. That’s especially true for a lot of people struggling to pay their bills in a still-lagging economy.
To counter those feelings, Mayor James and others still have to present a convincing case for the tax before Aug. 7.
Reach Yael T. Abouhalkah at 816-234-4887 or email him at email@example.com. He blogs at voices.kansascity.com. He appears on “Ruckus” at 7 tonight on KCPT, Channel 19. Twitter.com/YaelTAbouhalkah.