Judge rules in Kansas City’s favor in ballot battle with Clay Chastain

07/11/2014 3:40 PM

07/11/2014 6:26 PM

Jackson County Circuit Judge Sandra Midkiff ruled Friday that Kansas City doesn’t have to mention Clay Chastain’s light-rail plan when it puts his proposed taxes before voters in November.

But Chastain said he still hopes to work out compromise ballot language with the city that honors the intention of his supporters.

Midkiff’s ruling is the latest chapter in a three-year battle the city has waged with Chastain over his light-rail crusade. Chastain gathered enough petition signatures in 2011 to place a proposal before voters. He wanted to raise two separate taxes for 25 years — a 1/4-cent capital improvements sales tax and a 1/8-cent transportation sales tax — to help pay for a 22-mile light-rail system, a 19-mile commuter line and an 81/2-mile streetcar line.

The City Council refused to put the measure on the ballot at the time, saying it didn’t raise nearly enough money to build the system.

The case went to the Missouri Supreme Court, which ruled in February that the only questions required for the ballot were the tax increases and the city was not required to spend the money on any particular transit project, including Chastain’s.

The city recently proposed using bare-bones ballot language, asking voters in November whether they want to approve the two taxes for 25 years, with no mention of light rail.

Last week, a lawyer for Chastain’s supporters proposed alternate language that would make it clear the money was intended to “fund the nonbinding plan to construct a multimodal light-rail based regional transit system headquartered at Union Station.”

Midkiff rejected that argument Friday.

“No specific project is mandated. No construction of a light-rail system is required by the proposed ordinance,” Midkiff found as she ruled that the city’s ballot language was appropriate.

City attorney Bill Geary said the judge’s ruling “affirmed our reading of the Supreme Court’s opinion.”

But in an interview from his home in Virginia, Chastain called on the City Council to act on its own to correct the technical glitches in his petition initiative and still place a straightforward light-rail question before voters.

“This is legal trickery to ignore the purpose of the initiative that 4,000 voters signed,” Chastain said.

This whole battle is playing out as the city has its own transit tax proposal before a large segment of Kansas City voters south of the Missouri River. If a preliminary vote on that plan succeeds in August, the city will seek a different sales tax and property tax assessments in November to help pay for about 8 miles of streetcar and a MAX bus on Prospect Avenue.

Chastain said that even if the council doesn’t fix the ballot language on his initiative, he will campaign aggressively this fall for support of his light-rail plan and the taxes to help pay for it.

“If voters become confused,” Chastain said, “it will be the city’s fault.”

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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