Barbara Shelly

July 31, 2014

Freedom Inc. tells despicable lie on streetcar vote

The political club Freedom Inc. has pulled out the race card and a package of outright falsehoods to oppose Question A, the vote to create a transportation district that eventually could provide part of the funding for an expansion of Kansas City’s streetcar network as well as a bus rapid transit line on Prospect Avenue.

The political club Freedom Inc. has pulled out the race card and a package of outright falsehoods to oppose Question A, the vote to create a transportation district that eventually could provide part of the funding for an expansion of Kansas City’s streetcar network as well as a bus rapid transit line on Prospect Avenue.

In a mailer, Freedom refers to the proposed transportation development district as the “tax discrimination district” and features a picture of a sad-looking African-American child with the caption “Jim Crow must go!”

That message is dishonest and ridiculous. The proposed streetcar route was designed to help Kansas City’s east side. And under a plausible scenario, more than 90 percent of the funding for it would come from outside of the urban core.

The vote Tuesday doesn’t raise any kind of taxes. It merely creates a transportation district and clears the way for a separate election later, at which time voters will be asked to approve a tax package.

If Missouri voters approve a three-quarter cent sales tax increase on Tuesday (which Freedom supports, oddly) voters within the requested transportation district would pay an additional one-fourth cent to fund the streetcar line. Otherwise the sales tax increase for the streetcar plan would be one cent.

“This is the wrong way to fund a streetcar line between downtown and the Plaza,” the mailer declares, deliberately omitting the part about the proposed streetcar line that would run along Linwood Boulevard from Main Street to Prospect Avenue, and another line that would run east on Independence Avenue to Benton Boulevard.

Those two lines could be game-changers for the East Side. Developers have been eager to locate along the downtown streetcar route and there is reason to think a streetcar line along Linwood and Independence would entice businesses to those neighborhoods also. At the moment, plans call for the streetcar to be free, so that’s a cost saver for residents.

There are legitimate reasons to oppose the planned funding mechanism for the streetcar line. Businesses and residences within about a third of a mile from the proposed streetcar extension would have to pay special property assessments, amounting to an average cost of $95 a year on single-family homes. That is regrettable, but it is how special taxing districts work.

And as noted already, most of the money will come from outside of the district in the form of federal funding, from sales taxes paid in parts of the city other than the East Side, and from the increased Missouri sales tax, if it passes.

Whatever else the streetcar plan is, it has nothing to do with Jim Crow, the segregation laws and practices that arose after the Civil War and Reconstruction. The streetcar plan was specifically designed to connect black and Latino neighborhoods with other parts of the city, and to make all parts stronger.

To liken a progressive transportation plan to one of the worst chapter’s of our nation’s history is despicable. If Freedom Inc. is willing to sink to such a depth, it cannot hope to be considered a rational voice in solving the genuine problems of the urban core.

To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to bshelly@kcstar.com. On Twitter @bshelly.

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