Elections

Kansas City voters say no to Question One to cap developers’ incentives

Voter voices: What issues will the next mayor face while dealing with Kansas City’s economic development?

Kansas City has historically been generous in awarding property tax breaks to big developers. Will the next mayor take a different approach?
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Kansas City has historically been generous in awarding property tax breaks to big developers. Will the next mayor take a different approach?

Despite growing frustration with the city’s approach to economic development downtown and other areas, Kansas City voters were not ready to place a stringent cap on incentives for developers.

With a majority of precincts reporting Tuesday, 66% of voters said no to Question One.

The ballot measure would have capped at 50% the amount of property taxes the city can abate or redirect on development projects.

Voters weren’t necessarily against controlling incentives for developers.

“I thought it wasn’t very well thought out,” said one of those “no” voters, Linda Smith, 75, of South Kansas City, a private school teacher in Prairie Village.

Douglas Decker, 68, a retired special education teacher, voted “yes” at Christ the King Catholic Church on Wornall Road in Waldo.

“I taught school for 30 years and no one seems to understand how much money we lost for education,” Decker said.

Question One was a citizen-led attempt to reduce tax developers’ incentives. The Coalition for Kansas City Economic Development Reform collected more than 2,300 signatures to put the proposition on the ballot.

Previously, a 2016 ordinance spearheaded by then-City Councilman Quinton Lucas capped developers’ tax abatements at 75%, unless the project would have high economic impact or was located in an economically distressed area.

Question One provided no exceptions to a 50% cap.

Neither Lucas nor his opponent in the mayoral race, Jolie Justus, supported it.

Proponents said Lucas’ ordinance didn’t do enough to prevent developers from receiving major incentives. They wanted money to go to voter-approved projects instead.

But critics said the 50% cap would harm the city, and it would be better to wait until Lucas’ ordinance had more time to have an effect.

“We are just beginning to see the positive effects of the development deals using the 75% cap,” the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce had said in a statement in May. The chamber approves of the city’s current exceptions allowing greater incentives in needy neighborhoods and high impact impact.

If it had passed the measure would have taken effect Jan. 1.

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