Clay Chastain’s light-rail case goes before appellate court

Transit activist Clay Chastain and his supporters tried one more time Tuesday to get his latest massive light-rail proposal before voters.

In arguments before the Missouri Court of Appeals, attorney Jeffrey Carey said the Kansas City Council and a Jackson County trial judge erred in refusing to put Chastain’s 2011 initiative petition on an election ballot.

“Give the voters a chance to speak,” Carey urged the appeals court panel headed by Chief Judge James Welsh.

But Assistant City Attorney Sarah Baxter said the petition was properly rejected because it didn’t provide anywhere near the funding needed for Chastain’s light-rail plan, and thus was unconstitutional on its face. She said it was pointless to put an impossible proposal on the ballot.

“It’s never going to be implemented because the money isn’t there,” Baxter said.

No one disputes that Chastain, a longtime light-rail advocate who now lives in Virginia, gathered enough petition signatures in 2011 to put a measure on a Kansas City ballot. His 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.

Carey said Kansas City voters should at least get a chance to decide whether to tax themselves for the ambitious light-rail plan, and the City Council could build what was funded, or seek alternate funding sources. He said the sales tax itself would generate substantial money over 25 years, but if the city determined the plan was unfeasible, it could repeal Chastain’s ordinance after the public vote.

Baxter said Chastain’s own information sheet showed the tax would generate $1 billion, while the plan was expected to cost $2.5 billion for construction and operations.

The appeals court took the arguments under advisement and will rule later.

Chastain’s appeal comes as the city is preparing to build a more modest, $100 million two-mile streetcar system.