Kansas City Mayor Sly James and other local officials are quietly discussing a major tax increase proposal for the November ballot.
They want to raise the city's sales tax by three-eighths of a cent. They would use the money — some $30 million annually — to offer subsidies for early childhood education in the city.
The plan sounds intriguing, but it's far too soon to judge its merits. Improving Kansas Citians' access to quality education for their children before kindergarten is a worthwhile goal that's worth pursuing, but details are important.
Who will oversee distribution of the proceeds? Would participating schools need to qualify for the funds? Would the city guarantee the safety and quality of schools that are part of the program?
What role would school districts play? Why can't the state of Missouri fund early childhood education?
Those questions, and others, will be answered in the weeks ahead if the proposal moves forward. Other, more fundamental questions may be tougher to address.
Kansas City's never-ending thirst for sales tax revenue is troubling. It must be repeated, early and often: Sales taxes hurt the poor and working class. If an early childhood education tax passes, the sales tax will approach 10 cents on the dollar in many places, an extraordinary burden for many who can't afford it.
Supporters argue that the tax will provide funds to help poor families find quality pre-K programs. But what about families without children? The elderly? They'll be asked to shoulder part of the ever-escalating sales tax burden in the city.
Expensive water and sewer rate increases are a concern as well. Coupled with last year's voter-approved property tax increase, Kansas Citians are likely to ask if there's any limit to spending at City Hall.
Voters approved a sales tax increase a little more than a year ago for projects on the East Side. Many will undoubtedly be leery of another tax hike, three times as large, before projects funded by the Central City Economic Development Sales Tax even get off the ground.
The fact that this proposal has been drafted behind the scenes without open community discussion is also worrisome. James and others might have learned from last year's airport debate that secrecy is counterproductive, both for voters and stakeholders.
There are indications supporters will try to put the measure on the ballot through a petition rather than a City Council vote. That would contradict the mayor's complaints about the petition process and would push council members aside. That would be a mistake.
In 2013, community leaders asked voters to approve a nebulous sales tax increase in Jackson County for "translational" medical research. Voters crushed it at the polls.
If this new plan is to avoid a similar fate, supporters will need to change their approach. They'll have to explain why Kansas Citians should endorse yet another tax that's collected every time they buy something at the store.