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Missouri Supreme Court all but ends battle over KC streetcar financing

Kansas City officials on Oct. 4 unveiled renderings of what the city's streetcars will look like, although the actual colors have not yet been chosen.
Kansas City officials on Oct. 4 unveiled renderings of what the city's streetcars will look like, although the actual colors have not yet been chosen.

The Missouri Supreme Court declined Tuesday to hear a challenge to Kansas City’s downtown streetcar taxes, effectively ending the legal battle over the project’s financing.

The lawyer representing opponents of the taxes acknowledged that the ruling is final and that further litigation is unlikely.

“Obviously we’re disappointed,” said Mark Bredemeier. “We still believe in the merits of our arguments ... but understand that when you get to the Supreme Court review process, the percentages are against you.”

Tuesday’s decision clears the way for the project to move “full steam ahead,” Mayor Sly James said in a written statement.

“The time for arguments over the streetcar, legal or otherwise, has passed,” James said. “I’m excited to see the future of the downtown streetcar and the economic development it has and will continue to spur.”

The court’s decision, made without comment, means that an August ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals, affirming the taxes, will stand.

The three-judge appeals court panel had said opponents of the project missed the deadline for challenging the taxes and the project should be allowed to move forward.

The proposed $100 million project is planned to run for two miles from the River Market to near Union Station, primarily on Main Street.

Opponents had argued that the new property taxes and a 1-cent sales tax, imposed on downtown owners to help pay the costs of the system, were unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court’s decision vindicated the city’s work on the streetcar project, a Kansas City Council member said.

“The illusion of controversy is over,” said Councilman Russ Johnson. “This was not controversial. We followed the law, and anyone who claimed we did not follow the law was trying to throw stones and not raise legitimate issues.”

But River Market business owner Sue Burke, one of the plaintiffs in the suit challenging the taxes, said the full economic consequences of the project won’t be as positive as its supporters imagine.

Burke said that some of her customers at Kansas City Air Filter already have decided to shop elsewhere, where taxes are lower. The court’s decision could mean some difficult decisions for some longtime downtown business owners, she said.

“It probably means I’m going to have to relocate my business,” she said. “I will move my business out of Kansas City, Mo., to Kansas, where they seem to encourage business.”

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