The Kansas City Council attempted Thursday to draft ballot language for a giant infrastructure bond proposal, but advice from bond counsel threw a wrinkle into the deliberations.
Some council members worried that if they follow bond counsel’s legal advice, it will complicate the political landscape and might jeopardize the proposal’s support with voters.
Since early November, the council has contemplated putting one ballot question before voters in April to seek an $800 million general obligation bond authorization to fix a huge backlog of infrastructure problems. The council has haggled over how specific the ballot language should be on project categories, such as roads, bridges, buildings and sidewalks.
But Finance Director Randy Landes said bond counsel this week strongly recommended a different approach, with three ballot questions. Question 1 would allow the city to borrow up to $600 million for roads, bridges and sidewalks; Question 2 would provide up to $150 million for flood control; and Question 3 would have $50 million for public buildings, including the animal shelter and the Kansas City Museum.
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The city in 2004 successfully posed a single, vague $250 million general obligation bond question to voters, but assistant city attorney Nelson Munoz said case law has changed. Bond counsel now suggests three questions would be needed for the different categories, and their opinion is important because they would have to sign off on any city bond sale.
“They have agreed this is the best approach,” Munoz said.
Landes acknowledged council worries that this complicates the city’s political challenge to get the required super-majority, 57 percent voter support. Former City Councilman John Sharp warned that with three questions, people might vote for just one question, covering one category of infrastructure, instead of the whole needed package.
“It introduces a new level of complexity for voters,” Landes agreed.
Council members also continue to quibble over categories to fund, and funding amounts. Councilman Quinton Lucas suggested the city should jettison flood control and include $600 million for roads and bridges in Question 1, $150 million for sidewalks in Question 2, and $50 million for buildings in Question 3.
Mayor Sly James pushed back, saying, “Flood control is every bit as important as roads to the people who are flooded.” He said this package needs to address a whole host of problems to satisfy the entire city.
The deadline to approve ballot language for the April 4 election is Jan. 19. The council is off two weeks for the holiday but will debate the issue again at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 11.
The public also can continue to weigh in with ideas at www.kcmomentum.org.