Dave Helling

Dave Helling: It’s OK to vote against more tax increases on April 4 ballot

Five things to know: Citywide eighth-cent sales tax on KC's April 4 ballot

Advocates for a citywide one-eighth-cent sales tax on Kansas City’s April 4 ballot want to spur economic development along Prospect Avenue, a central city stretch that has been deteriorating for decades.
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Advocates for a citywide one-eighth-cent sales tax on Kansas City’s April 4 ballot want to spur economic development along Prospect Avenue, a central city stretch that has been deteriorating for decades.

The Star’s Editorial Board and most of official Kansas City have endorsed the so-called GO bond proposal on the ballot next week.

The plan calls for raising property taxes gradually over the next 20 years, to an average of about $100 more annually for a typical homeowner, then leaving them more or less at that level for another 20 years.

The money would pay for $800 million in borrowing for infrastructure improvements.

Several community groups and The Star also have endorsed the One City sales tax proposal — a one-eighth-cent increase over 10 years, providing $100 million for projects along the Prospect Corridor on the city’s East Side.

No one doubts the need for spending on infrastructure and urban renewal, and the endorsements have come largely because of that.

But need is just one part of a complicated equation. Kansas Citians contemplating votes against both proposals can do so with a clear conscience.

One City sales tax

The levy is a minor increase. But it won’t stand alone — it will be tacked on to other sales taxes for parks, police, fire, capital improvements, mass transit, the zoo and the Truman Sports Complex.

More sales taxes are added in community improvement districts. In the Troost Avenue district — from Cleaver Boulevard south to 75th Street — the total sales tax will be $9.10 on a $100 purchase if the One City proposal passes.

The sales tax in the streetcar district would move ominously closer to $11 per $100.

Those aren’t pennies; they’re dollars.

Flat sales taxes are regressive. They hurt the poor and lower-income residents because they aren’t based on the ability to pay.

The GO bonds

The city’s $800 million proposal will mean higher property taxes for 40 years beyond today’s baseline.

Kansas Citians already pay local taxes on earnings and profits, sales, gaming, utilities, hotels and restaurants, car rentals and tobacco.

And property. There’s a property tax for general use, indigent health, the Kansas City Museum, the library, mental health treatment and schools. The GO bond package will add to that burden.

Mayor Sly James insists raising taxes is the only way to fix infrastructure — that spending out of existing revenues is impossible.

Really? The cost of infrastructure bonds in the first year is just $3.2 million, a drop in the bucket.

Somehow, the city can find $200,000 to pay one firefighter for overtime, $500,000 for the outgoing police chief, and it is looking for $10 million to pay apartment owners for trash removal.

Six-figure discrimination settlements dot the landscape. The city can hand out close to $19 million in raises to public safety workers. Yet it can’t find $3.2 million for bridge and street repairs?

Kansas City tax increases have accumulated like barnacles around the bottom of a boat. No one ever scrapes the hull to make sure the taxes and spending make sense.

I’m not against all taxes. I live in Kansas and have repeatedly argued for higher taxes in the state. I think the earnings tax is fair, at least for me.

But Kansas City, Mo., had a higher average tax burden in 2015 than Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Houston and Denver. And because the city collects a flat income tax and a flat sales tax, that higher burden falls disproportionately on those least able to pay.

The city’s leaders know this. In 2012, the mayor’s Revenue Commission recommended letting the sales tax for fire personnel lapse and using that $16 million for infrastructure. Did that happen? Of course not. The city got approval to extend the fire sales tax, and now they’re back, asking for more.

That won’t end after next Tuesday’s vote. This year or next, they’ll be back again, asking to extend Kansas City’s sales tax for — you guessed it — capital improvements.

There are reasons to vote yes next week. But it’s OK to vote no.

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