Missouri high court hears Clay Chastain’s argument for putting transit tax on KC ballot

10/03/2013 1:09 PM

10/03/2013 5:57 PM

An attorney for transit activist Clay Chastain asked the Missouri Supreme Court on Thursday to force Kansas City to place his latest ballot initiative before voters.

Chastain, a longtime light-rail advocate who used to live in Kansas City, gathered enough signatures to put a sales tax increase on the city ballot. The proposal sought a three-eighths-cent sales tax increase for 25 years to pay part of the costs of a 22-mile light-rail line, a 19-mile commuter rail line and an 81/2-mile streetcar line.

But the City Council declined, saying it violated the Missouri Constitution by failing to provide full funding for the construction as mandated by the ordinance.

“Enough signatures were gathered to place this measure on the ballot,” Jeffrey Carey, Chastain’s attorney, said Thursday. “Now we should let the voters decide, which is how the process is supposed to work.”

Carey said that if it were approved by voters, the City Council would then have numerous options if it determined that the sales tax revenue wasn’t enough. It could seek federal funds, it could issue bonds or it could simply continue collecting the tax revenue until enough money was in reserve to pay for the projects.

Assistant City Attorney Sarah Baxter argued Thursday that the proposed ballot measure is misleading. It wouldn’t provide anywhere near the funding needed, Baxter said, and thus would force the city to either borrow funds or use the money in a way not envisioned by voters.

“This is an appropriation without providing all the revenue needed,” Baxter said.

Some of the high court’s seven judges questioned whether the proposal was binding even if it were approved by voters.

“This would create a sales tax, but what would limit the city from spending the money on something else, like roads?” asked Judge Laura Denvir Stith.

Baxter insisted that the City Council would be forced to abide by the measure if it succeeded at the ballot.

If it eventually chose to rescind the plan, it would face a lawsuit, Baxter said. That’s what happened in 2006, she pointed out, when voters approved one of Chastain’s proposals and the city voided it, an action that was eventually upheld in court.

Carey disagreed, saying the city would have wide latitude on how to handle the new revenue.

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