Government & Politics

KC leaders decry proposed cap on sales taxes. 'Leave us alone,' mayor says

Mayor Sly James and other Kansas City leaders spoke out Wednesday against a bill pending in the Missouri legislature that would limit localities from collecting more than 14 percent sales taxes.
Mayor Sly James and other Kansas City leaders spoke out Wednesday against a bill pending in the Missouri legislature that would limit localities from collecting more than 14 percent sales taxes. The Star

More than a dozen Kansas City government, labor and business leaders gathered at an east side fire station Wednesday to condemn proposed state legislation that would cap the amount of sales tax the city can collect.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Charles, would limit the total state and local sales tax rate to a maximum of 14 percent.

Kansas City relies on a menu of voter-approved sales taxes, most between .25 percent and 1 percent, that will generate an estimated $247.7 million this year for parks, mass transit, fire service, capital improvements and other government services. Sales tax revenue represents about 25 percent of the tax-supported budget.

"I'm not asking the state legislature to do anything other than leave us alone," Mayor Sly James told reporters at Fire Station 10 on East Ninth St. "This is dangerous legislation that could become law."

Christofanelli said on his Twitter feed Wednesday that the bill was amended in committee to raise the cap from 12 percent to 14 percent.

"Still, there is no cap at which the boundless appetite for municipal tax increases will be satisfied," he said. "Sales taxes hurt the working poor and make Missouri less competitive. Reasonable limits must be in place. "

The city is close to bumping against the 14 percent ceiling set by the bill.

The combined state and city sales tax rate is 7.225 percent. But depending on the location, an array of county and "special district" levies for transportation and economic development escalate that tax burden. Downtown Kansas City, for example, is at 10.6 percent.

The bill also includes the 2 percent restaurant tax as part of the cap. And if the city imposes a new 1 cent sales tax for the Central Business District — part of a deal it struck last month with Power & Light District developer Cordish to help pay for parking garages — the cumulative rate would be 13.6 percent.

Other speakers, including Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce President Joe Reardon, said the bill represented unwarranted interference with the ability of local governments to meet their mission.

"We strongly oppose the bill," Reardon said.

Kansas City fire chief Gary Reese, Kansas City Area Transportation Authority CEO Robbie Makinen and parks director Mark McHenry also spoke.

James said the bill was an example of Republican hostility toward Democratic majority cities.

"It's now the sport of Republican legislatures to pre-empt cities," he said.

Last week Kansas City voters overwhelmingly approved renewal of a one-cent sales tax for capital improvements. Some of the revenue is earmarked for replacement of the Buck O'Neil Bridge.

The bill's prospects for passage are unclear with the legislative calendar winding down toward the May 30 adjournment. It passed the House Ways and Means committee last week. Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-St. Louis County, has promised to try to attach the bill as an amendment to any legislation moving forward.

But city officials lobbying against the measure this week said they felt increasingly optimistic about the chances of blocking it.

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