An April 4 ballot question will ask Kansas City voters to approve a one-eighth-cent sales tax to benefit economic development in a specific area of the central city.
The issue, reaching voters through an initiative petition, competes for attention with three general obligation bond questions for citywide infrastructure improvements that City Hall has set as priorities.
Here’s the basic information about the sales tax request. Additional articles about the proposal — who’s for it and who’s against it — will follow in coming days.
Q: What does the sales tax question ask of voters?
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A: The Central City Economic Development Sales Tax question asks Kansas City voters to approve an eighth-cent sales tax for 10 years to help fund economic development solely in an area bounded by Ninth Street to the north, Gregory Boulevard to the south, the Paseo to the west and Indiana Avenue to the east.
Q: How much revenue would the sales tax generate, and how would the funds be distributed?
A: Estimates call for the sales tax to produce about $8.6 million a year. Administration of the funds would be overseen by a governing board, with three appointees by the Kansas City mayor and City Council, one appointee by the Jackson County Legislature and one appointee by the Kansas City Public Schools board. At this point, no specific development projects are known, but backers want the sale tax revenue to assist in redevelopment along the Prospect Avenue corridor.
Q: Why was that specific area of the city selected to benefit from the tax?
A: Planners identified it as the neediest area of the city in terms of lack of development, high crime, poverty and general degeneration of its housing stock and commercial activity. They chose to focus on Prospect Avenue and drew the boundaries 10 blocks east and west of that street.
Q: Who are the planners and prime advocates?
A: A coalition of leaders aligned with the Urban Summit, the Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, Freedom Inc., and several churches with largely African-American membership got the question on the ballot through an initiative petition. They collected more signatures than the 1,708 needed to place an issue on the city ballot, based on the voter turnout in the last mayoral election.
Q: About $8.6 million a year is a relatively small amount of money. How would that make a dent in the significant redevelopment needs in that area?
A: The sales tax revenues could be used to leverage other investment by the city or private investors. They could help small or minority businesses with predevelopment costs or provide some other kind of development incentive to help bridge financing gaps.
Q: Why was an eighth of a cent selected for the question, and why for 10 years?
A: Petitioners said they considered a quarter-cent tax for up to 30 years, but settled on the ballot language because they considered it a more palatable option for voters.
Q: Sales taxes often are criticized as regressive, or hurtful to the poor. Why was a sales tax chosen in this case?
A: Petitioners said a sales tax was the available vehicle to pursue through initiative petition. Also, they said residents of the distressed areas of the city have indicated willingness to tax their own purchases to help pay for redevelopment.
Q: How will the petitioners make their case to voters citywide?
A: Organizers said they intend to campaign with a “one city” marketing theme. They want to convey two messages — that the entire city benefits when the city’s core has job opportunities and good housing, and that residents of the central city consistently have supported past taxes that went to major development projects outside of the central city.
Q: Why are the petitioners acting now, when voters also will have three general obligation bond issues to consider?
A: Petitioners say private developers and City Hall leaders have abandoned or overlooked the central city’s needs for decades and that it’s time for economic fairness.
Q: Is there organized opposition to the sales tax? If not, what are some reasons individuals are against it?
A: No organized opposition has surfaced yet, but the sales tax question has no formal support from the mayor, the manager or City Council. Outside of city government, some individuals have expressed opposition because they oppose any tax increase, or because they oppose a citywide tax that would benefit only one specific area, or because they want specificity about how the tax would be used.