Circuit judge gives Clay Chastain a split decision on light rail in KC

06/14/2014 4:43 PM

06/14/2014 9:03 PM

Clay Chastain’s tax proposal for light rail in Kansas City should go before voters, but the city should write the ballot language, a Jackson County judge has ruled.

Circuit Judge Sandra Midkiff’s order gives each side a partial victory: The city would have preferred that Chastain’s proposal not appear on any ballot, and Chastain would prefer to use his own summary ballot language.

The measure could go to the voters in November. If it does, Chastain’s proposal could complicate the city’s plans to put new streetcar taxes on that ballot.

The ruling, issued Friday, is the latest development in a three-year fight by Chastain — a longtime transit advocate who got his start in Kansas City but now lives in Bedford, Va. — to put his massive plan in front of voters.

Mayor Sly James was traveling from Washington, D.C., on Saturday night and could not be reached for comment. His spokeswoman, Joni Wickham, said the mayor’s office would consult with its legal team on Monday.

At a news conference Saturday evening at Union Station, Chastain applauded Midkiff for ordering the city to put his proposal on the ballot.

“Unfortunately, the judge is allowing the city to write the ballot language,” he said. “We hope now they won’t try to sabotage the ballot language and put something on the ballot that doesn’t reflect the intent and purpose of this initiative and disregards it and puts something meaningless that nobody would vote for.

“So, that is their way to winning in the end. That is not winning, that is not American; that is cheating and that is unfair and we are not going to stand for it.”

Voters, he said, will approve his plan.

“And when it wins, this town is going to turn around and march towards it destiny which is the city beautiful and one of the great cities in the world with one of the greatest mass transit systems in the world.”

Midkiff’s order gives the city until June 23 to submit its ballot language for Chastain’s proposal.

Once the city’s language is filed, Chastain will have up to five days to object or submit a proposed revision.

Chastain’s proposal calls for construction of a light rail-based multimodal transit system to be headquartered at Union Station. He envisions a 22-mile light-rail system, a 19-mile commuter line and an 8 1/2-mile streetcar line.

He gathered enough signatures in 2011 to put on the ballot a measure to raise sales taxes by three-eighths of a cent for a light-rail system.

The city refused to present it to the voters, claiming the tax would not raise enough money to pay for it and that it was unconstitutional.

In February, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the Chastain proposal was not unconstitutional because it merely raised money without requiring the city to actually build the project.

Supporters of the other transit plan — the city’s streetcar expansion — fear that having Chastain’s proposal on the same ballot could confuse voters.

In August, the city will ask voters to approve a bigger streetcar taxing district. The proposed district would begin south of the Missouri River and stretch from State Line east to Interstate 435. The southern boundary would be about 51st Street between State Line and the Paseo, and then south to Gregory Boulevard, then along Gregory to I-435.

If voters living within the proposed district approve the expansion, the city would ask voters for tax increases in November. Those taxes would help pay for expanding the system.

Planners have said the extensions would add nearly 8 miles of track to the 2.2-mile downtown starter line, which is already under construction. The extensions would cost an estimated $472 million. The system would also include 9 miles of a Prospect Avenue MAX bus rapid transit line, from 75th Street north to 12th Street, at a cost of $43 million. The total cost would be $515 million.

City officials think they can get the federal government to pay about half the cost, but first the city must come up with a way to raise half the money locally. The local taxes wouldn’t actually kick in until the federal money is identified.

The financing plan contemplates a 1-cent sales tax within the district boundaries, plus special assessments for properties within three or four blocks of the streetcar extensions. Those owners are deemed to get the greatest economic development benefit from the routes.

Chastain, at his news conference, dismissed the city’s more modest plan.

“This little streetcar plan isn’t going to do doodly-squat for this city, and everybody knows that,” he said.

The Star’s Lynn Horsley and Mike Hendricks contributed to this story.

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or send email to

To reach Glenn E. Rice, call 816-234-4341 or send email to


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