Editorials

Why is this Missouri lawmaker trying to mess with KC’s voter-approved earnings tax?

Despite defeat on earnings tax, Citizens For Responsible Government not going away

Woody Cozad, spokesman for the Citizens for Responsible Government, says unlike five years ago, group is going to continue to ask question how Kansas City handles taxation and expenses.
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Woody Cozad, spokesman for the Citizens for Responsible Government, says unlike five years ago, group is going to continue to ask question how Kansas City handles taxation and expenses.

What will it take to convince conservative Republicans to leave Kansas City and St. Louis alone?

Next year, a conservative Missouri state senator will try once again to wipe out the earnings tax in Kansas City and St. Louis. This is a 1 percent tax on wages that 77 percent of Kansas City voters re-endorsed in 2016; 78 percent of voters backed it in 2011. It’s a tax that passed with 72 percent support in St. Louis two years ago.

In Kansas City, the tax accounts for roughly 40 percent of the city general fund. It pays for police, fire, ambulance and other essential services. Mayor Kay Barnes once called it “absolutely critical to the future of this city.”

And yet, some conservatives remain hell-bent on sticking their noses into places where they have no business. Isn’t local control part of the conservative creed? If that’s the case, Kansas Citians have declared for all to hear that they believe this tax is essential.

So we wonder why state Sen. Bill Eigel from little Weldon Spring (population: 5,443 near St. Louis) is so determined to eliminate such a critical revenue source for the state’s two big cities.

He apparently has a problem with income taxes. “I have opposed income taxes as long as I’ve been involved in politics,” Eigel told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He believes income taxes are a “natural deterrent” to economic growth.

Of course, those of us over here to the west weathered former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax “experiment” that disproved so much of what Eigel espouses. That state’s revenue dried up to the point that critical services were severely undermined — so much so that Republicans wound up raising taxes again even over the governor’s veto.

Eigel, who did not respond to a request for an interview, apparently doesn’t want to be bothered with such details. He may be more interested in presenting his conservative credentials to some of Missouri’s deep-pocketed money men who are all too eager to fund the next GOP rising star. One of those rich guys is Rex Sinquefield, the St. Louis businessman who opposes anything resembling an income tax.

“The General Assembly should do everything it can to get rid of the earnings taxes in St. Louis or Kansas City,” Sinquefield said in 2016.

Eigel is doing Sinquefield’s bidding this year. In 2015, it was former state Sen. Kurt Schaefer who went on an anti-earnings tax warpath and declared the tax “outdated” and “dysfunctional” with provisions that are “clearly unconstitutional.” For that, Sinquefield rewarded Schaefer with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations to his losing bid for attorney general.

Eigel’s legislation would phase out the earnings taxes over a decade. In typical political fashion, he doesn’t offer an alternative revenue source. If he’s aware that the tax now raises $260 million a year in Kansas City, we don’t know it. If he understands that elimination of the tax could mean serious cuts to all those services, we aren’t aware of it.

Conservatives already passed a burdensome requirement that voters reauthorize the tax every five years. But even that’s not enough.

Senator Eigel, Kansas Citians clearly support this this tax. We’re doing pretty well over here, in case you haven’t noticed. We don’t mean be rude, but why don’t you mind your own business?

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