Voters will decide in four weeks whether to renew Kansas City’s 1 percent earnings tax, which applies to people who live or work in the city.
Supporters hope to achieve victory with a reasonable game plan, which they began rolling out in earnest Monday.
Billboards went up at several key spots in the city. They urge people to “Keep KC Moving” and “Vote Yes” on Question 1 on April 5.
And a TV spot began airing. It features Mayor Sly James and the campaign phrase “We have to renew the earnings tax,” along with pledges of support from other civic leaders.
Defeating the tax would harm the city’s future.
It would permanently end in 10 years a crucial source of public revenues that provides more than 40 percent of the general fund. City Hall would have to seek voter approval to boost local property and sales taxes.
Layoffs of police and firefighters could occur because the general fund is the largest source of money for public safety jobs. And nonresidents would escape paying for public services they use in the city.
Meanwhile, earnings tax critics are backed by St. Louis multimillionaire Rex Sinquefield and his bulging pocketbook.
On Monday it was confirmed that Sinquefield had contributed almost $400,000 more to campaigns aimed at permanently killing the earnings taxes in Kansas City and St. Louis.
His total donations now top $1.46 million in just the last few weeks. So far, he’s the only major donor to the “Vote No on the E-tax Campaign.”
This is a longtime cause for Sinquefield. He spent more than $10 million in 2010 to persuade state voters to pass a law that forced Kansas City and St. Louis to hold earnings tax elections every five years, starting in 2011. Voters in both cities overwhelmingly endorsed the tax that year, and Kansas City reached almost 80 percent approval.
But Sinquefield and his money bags sat on the sidelines in the local 2011 elections. This year the situation has changed dramatically, imperiling Kansas City’s earnings tax in two ways.
▪ Sinquefield’s funds most likely will be used to pay for a concentrated advertisement campaign to end the tax. What the words will be and what the strategy will look like are unclear for now.
▪ His puppets in Jefferson City are still holding out hope they can kill the tax even more quickly than in 10 years.
Several proposed bills would end the tax as soon as 2017. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican whose attorney general campaign has received a $500,000 contribution from Sinquefield, put forward one of them but later took Kansas City out of the bill — for now.
So far, opponents have been unable to provide any compelling reasons to dump a tax that provides $240 million a year, most of it for public safety.
Critics contend that City Hall should have a “plan” to replace those revenues. Well, a rough one exists — the previously mentioned new taxes and potential large layoffs — but those aren’t responsible moves for Kansas City.
Detractors have failed to put forth convincing reasons for ending the tax. They have tried to use the “it-repels-progress” argument, but that one looks particularly silly in light of continued growth in the city’s population, booming economic development in the Northland and renewed investment over the last decade in downtown.
Back on the supporters’ side, city and civic leaders once again have put together a broad coalition of organizations that want the earnings tax to continue.
They include the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City in the corporate world, Freedom Inc. from the city’s East Side, the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO on the labor front, and neighborhood-related groups including South Kansas City Alliance and Northland Neighborhoods Inc.
That’s an impressive and diverse list that could lead to a strong, pro-earnings tax turnout on April 5.
Kansas City voters need to rally and repudiate the meddling Sinquefield’s bid to damage the city’s future.