Yael T. Abouhalkah

Foul ball: Northland scores sports perks without paying tax

Updated: 2013-05-01T23:37:20Z

By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH

The Kansas City Star

Jackson County voters in 2006 saved major league sports for the Kansas City metropolitan area by endorsing a new sales tax to renovate the Truman Sports Complex.

Johnson Countians didn’t help out. Neither did the good people of Clay, Platte or Wyandotte counties. In fact, voters in those four counties had killed a 2004 bistate sales tax to help support this regional asset.

Properly so, the Chiefs and Royals set up special programs to reward Jackson County voters for their support. The Chiefs give county residents first dibs on buying some season and single-game tickets, plus discounts on select merchandise and parking. The Royals offer “Jackson County Days,” up to a 50 percent discount on tickets to 20 or so games a season.

But then came this odd twist last week, promoted on Twitter by Mayor Sly James:

“We are ALL #KC: Announcing Northland KC residents now get 1/2 off tix 2 select @Royals games (like JaxCo residents)”

That doesn’t seem fair: Kansas Citians in Clay and Platte counties were among those who rejected the 2004 bistate tax. Yet now they will get the same perks as the people who approved a different tax to benefit the baseball team in 2006.

Turns out the mayor’s office began thinking about this idea after the 2012 All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium. As a spokesman noted this week, the Kansas City budget for more than two decades has set aside $2 million a year to help maintain the sports complex. So if Kansas Citians in the Northland are helping the Royals, the mayor’s office figures, they should get a few benefits.

The Royals agreed to the promotion.

However, this change certainly isn’t keeping with the spirit of the 2006 agreement worked out by Jackson County officials and the two major league clubs.

Plus, the Jackson County sales tax creates $30 million a year — most of it from county residents — which is 15 times the annual Kansas City contribution for the stadiums.

Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders has no specific problem with the Royals ticket discounts offered to Northland residents given Kansas City’s longstanding support for the county-owned sports complex, a county spokesman said.

Sanders better be much more peeved, though, if Johnson Countians or others come along wanting similar perks. It could happen. Johnson Countians who work in Kansas City contribute to the city’s general fund — which pays for the sports complex repairs — through their earnings tax payments. Following James’ logic on Northland residents, Johnson Countians also play a bit role in funding stadium maintenance.

Sure, all of this can get quite complicated.

I found out Wednesday that the mayor’s office does not have a similar deal with the Chiefs to get special benefits for Northland residents, even though the Chiefs also are subsidized by the city’s annual $2 million contribution.

Or consider the Kansas City Zoo’s special benefits program.

It offers reduced prices and some free admission days to residents of Jackson and Clay counties because their voters passed a sales tax increase in 2011 to upgrade the zoo.

Wait: Kansas City taxpayers have given the zoo $3 million or more a year in general fund money for a long time. So should Kansas Citians who live in Platte County and thus help finance the zoo get the same perks as residents from Jackson and Clay counties?

They don’t — yet — and that’s how it ought to stay unless Platte countians eventually embrace the same zoo sales tax.

For his part, James is convinced the Royals ticket offer for Northland residents remains a positive move.

“I never would have thought that (this) would be so controversial,” he wrote on Twitter.

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. He blogs at voices.kansascity.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/YaelTAbouhalkah. He appears on “Ruckus” at 7 p.m. Thursday on KCPT, Channel 19.

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