Sundays have become a painful experience for Rick Worth.
He would like to spend his day selling Harley-Davidson motorcycles at the Kansas City dealership his family has run since 1978. But Missouri law is clear: No motorcycle sales on Sunday.
The situation has the lifelong Missouri resident contemplating a reluctant move across the state line, where Kansas law has no similar ban.
“We literally have to ignore customers when they are on the showroom floor looking at vehicles,” Worth said. “If you drove 30 minutes to come see us and talk about a motorcycle, and now we won’t talk to you, it’s going to be natural for a person to walk away mad. And a lot of times they end up in Kansas, buying from my competitor.”
Lawmakers have long debated ways to improve Missouri’s standing in the border war — or at the very least call a truce. From slicing taxes to cutting business incentives, the issues surrounding how to keep Missouri competitive with its neighbor have typically resulted in a political stalemate between a GOP-dominated legislature and Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
This year, a few lawmakers hope they can break through by thinking a little smaller. Just a slight change to state law that would allow motorcycle dealers like Worth around the state to sell their vehicles on Sunday.
“With all the focus we’ve paid to the border war and the competition across state lines, now is the time to start looking for all the ways we are allowing Kansas to better compete,” said Rep. Caleb Jones, a Columbia Republican and one of the sponsors of the Sunday sales legislation. “This is a really simple way to … level the playing field.”
A House committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Jones’ bill today.
The ban on Sunday sales in Missouri has evolved over the years.
“I’m old enough to remember when everyone went to Kansas to buy clothes on Sunday,” said Mike Cierpoit, a Lee’s Summit Republican and the assistant House majority leader.
Since that time, the law has been relaxed greatly. Most things are now exempt from the ban, Cierpoit said. Even though the sale of most motor vehicles — such as cars, trucks and motorcycles — is still prohibited on Sunday, the ban does not extend to the purchase of recreational vehicles such as campers or boats.
“The existing law has been on the books for decades and has done nothing but drive thousands of customers out of Missouri and into Kansas,” he said. “The businesses we have here simply want to be on equal footing.”
If the idea hopes to gain traction, its sponsors will have to fight their way onto an already crowded border-war-centric agenda. House and Senate committees held hearings earlier this month on legislation that would impose a moratorium on tax incentives for businesses in the Kansas City area that move from one side of the state line to the other.
A study by the Hall Family Foundation concluded that since 2009, one Kansas program has waived $141 million of tax revenues to move 3,343 jobs from Jackson County to Johnson or Wyandotte counties.
Meanwhile, one Missouri program has waived $76 million in tax revenues to move 2,929 jobs from those two Kansas counties to Jackson County.
The net result of the Hall study found a collective tax waiver of $217 million that produced a net gain of 414 jobs in Kansas.
“Neither state benefits,” said Bill Hall, the assistant to the chairman of Kansas City-based Hallmark Cards Inc. and the president of the foundation. “Both are losing.”
Lawmakers also continue to debate cutting Missouri’s tax rates, a move inspired partly by massive cuts that have been enacted in Kansas.
Nixon, after vetoing a tax-cut bill last year out of concerns it could affect funding for public services and education, said recently he would be willing to sign a tax-cut law. But he had some conditions. Namely, the cuts could not be enacted without fully funding K-12 education and they must be accompanied by a bill curbing spending on business tax incentives.
While the Senate sponsor of the tax-cut bill said he could support Nixon’s proposal, House leadership balked, putting the hopes of any deal in jeopardy.
“We should definitely be talking about all this stuff,” Jones said. “But when we can do something really simple that can keep jobs and tax dollars here in Missouri, we should be doing it.”
Jones and Cierpiot said no opposition to the bill on Sunday motorcycle sales has surfaced.
As for Worth, he hopes the law can be changed before he has to make some big changes of his own.
In his industry, Saturday and Sunday are the biggest sales days of the week. That means Missouri’s laws cost him millions of dollars a year, not only in sales, but also in follow-up visits for parts, maintenance and accessories.
“We give up a huge chunk of our revenue each year simply for being located in Missouri,” he said. “That hurts.”
His first step would be to close on Sundays. He currently opens his doors that day for repairs and to sell accessories, but “that just ends up confusing customers who don’t understand why we can’t talk to them about our vehicles.”
If the situation persists, Worth said he may have to explore whether moving the six miles across the state line makes sense for his business.
“I was born and raised in Kansas City, Mo. That’s where I’ve raised my children. This is where my heart is at, and this is where I want to stay,” Worth said.
“I don’t want to have to think about moving to Kansas, but something has to give.”