Barbara Shelly

Barbara Shelly: KC must stand strong against attacks from Missouri and Kansas legislatures

Kansas City has a lot of good things going for it, but a regional united front is needed to ward off attacks from state legislatures in Missouri and Kansas.
Kansas City has a lot of good things going for it, but a regional united front is needed to ward off attacks from state legislatures in Missouri and Kansas. deulitt@kcstar.com

It’s easy to feel optimistic about Kansas City right now.

Downtown gets livelier and more interesting all the time and some neighborhoods, like Waldo, where I live, are becoming surprisingly trendy.

The streetcar is ready to come on line and, hey, the Royals opener is little more than a week away.

But for all of the good things happening, the region is imperiled. It is under attack from the Republican-controlled legislatures in Jefferson City and Topeka. If ever a united front was called for, it is now.

Kansas City earlier this session fought off GOP Sen. Kurt Schaefer’s bill to kill the earnings tax, but now a House member has introduced a measure seeking a constitutional amendment to end the revenue source for Kansas City and St. Louis.

Rep. Sue Allen of Town and Country, Mo., told St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Alex Stuckey that she filed the bill at someone’s request, but she wouldn’t name the someone.

“It’s not something I’m spending a lot of time on so I’d rather you not address this with me,” Allen said.

What! You introduce a bill that could cause Missouri’s largest city to lose 40 percent of its general fund revenue, and you’d rather not talk about it? No dice.

Senate Joint Resolution 39, the attempt to enshrine the right to discriminate against gay and lesbian Missourians in the state Constitution, needs only passage from the House to appear on a statewide ballot this year.

If it becomes law, Kansas City would almost certainly lose millions of dollars of business from collegiate events, conventions, meetings and jobs. Event planners and employers don’t want to mess around with states that allow businesses to discriminate under the guise of religion.

Across the state line, the Kansas Legislature is moving forward with a bill that would constrain spending increases by local governments to an adjusted consumer price increase. Any spending beyond that — say for a special project or quality of life improvements — would require a public vote.

This is insulting legislation that holds local governments to standards the Kansas Legislature refuses to impose on itself.

In addition, both legislatures have stripped cities and counties of the right to place sensible restrictions on where and how firearms can be carried.

The Missouri General Assembly last year passed a law forbidding cities from increasing the minimum wage. And for good measure, the same law says local communities can’t ban plastic grocery bags.

The Kansas City region has always been beset by divisions. The Kansas side versus the Missouri side. North of the river versus south of the river. Northern Johnson County versus southern Johnson County.

But this is the time to pull together. Political, business and civic leaders must unite and become fiercely politically active.

Pay attention to state legislative races in Missouri and Kansas this year. Voters must elect urban and suburban lawmakers with an allegiance to the region. Too many legislators are more loyal to ideological movements than they are to their communities and constituents.

In Missouri, watch what happens to SJR 39. Lawmakers who support this anti-gay measure are willing to risk great harm to this region’s economy. Republican Sens. Will Kraus from Lee’s Summit and Ryan Silvey from Kansas City voted in favor, unfortunately.

In the current political climate, any progress in this region will come as a result of smart, visionary leadership at the local level. And from a strong, united defense against the threats from Jefferson City and Topeka.

On a personal note, this is my last column for The Kansas City Star. I leave with great memories and vast appreciation for my colleagues and readers. Beyond that, the explanation seems best suited for a Facebook post, and in fact I’ve written one. I’ll still be in town and I’ll still be on Twitter @bshelly, cheering for Kansas City and hoping for sanity in the state capitols.

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