Incentive reform measure inspires long debate but no vote by KC Council

The Kansas City Council held a lengthy debate an on economic incentive reform ordinance but did not vote on it Thursday.
The Kansas City Council held a lengthy debate an on economic incentive reform ordinance but did not vote on it Thursday.

The Kansas City Council held off on voting on an incentive reform ordinance amid a flurry of eleventh-hour opposition from a labor organization and a walkout by a sponsor of the measure during a long debate Thursday.

Jermaine Reed, a 3rd District councilman who co-sponsored the incentive reform ordinance spearheaded by his 3rd District at-large colleague, Quinton Lucas, left in the middle of the debate before a vote. It’s not clear how Reed would have voted — he could not be reached for comment — but he was one of seven co-sponsors of the legislation, giving proponents an apparent majority on the 13-member council.

Reed’s departure set up what looked like a tie vote, which would have defeated the ordinance. Proponents of the measure seemed ready to call a vote until Reed left the meeting.

The ordinance, generally, seeks to limit the redirection or abatement of taxes for development projects by one-fourth. Exceptions to the policy include projects in distressed census tracts and projects that score well on the AdvanceKC scorecard. AdvanceKC is a mechanism that evaluates whether projects are appropriate for development incentives and what kind. AdvanceKC favors projects that command large investments by companies, offer high-paying jobs and involve the preservation of historic buildings, among other factors.

Council members who advocated for a delay on the vote said they wanted assurances from taxing jurisdictions like Kansas City Public Schools and the Kansas City Public Library that they supported the incentive reform ordinance. Representatives from both the school district and the library were in attendance and said they supported the measure. But some council members wanted that assurance in the form of resolutions of support voted upon and passed by those organizations’ governing boards.

The St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council urged the council in a letter dated Wednesday not to pass the resolution because the group feared it “could plunge the City into a prolonged period of economic stagnation.”

That letter follows on another sent to council members by the Greater Kansas City Building and Construction Trades Council, another labor group, on Sept. 7. That letter said the union couldn’t support the ordinance without including a provision for prevailing wage.

Reform proponents on Thursday agreed to an amendment that limits the policy only to new development projects. In other words, it would not apply to existing tax increment financing plans if an amendment came up later on.

Council members who wanted to hold off on a vote echoed concerns from the labor groups and amplified them with the possibility that economic development projects will go to surrounding cities where they can get the full benefit of development incentives.

The vote will wait for two weeks, if not longer.

Steve Vockrodt: 816-234-4277, @st_vockrodt