On April 5, Kansas City voters go to the polls to likely renew the crucial 1 percent earnings tax.
That would be the right call. It would keep $240 million flowing for important public services. It would continue to fairly impose a tax on wage earners who don’t live in the city but benefit from those services.
Almost 80 percent of Kansas Citians voted to extend the tax in 2011. Backers hope — heck, deserve — that kind of support this time, too.
But a well-funded effort to chip into that support is underway. Here are the inadequate reasons offered by a small band of people against the tax.
▪ Earlier this week, Republican state Rep. Sue Allen was asked why she had filed a bill that would require all Missourians to vote on whether Kansas City and St. Louis can keep their earnings taxes.
Allen, who’s from the St. Louis suburb of Town and Country, brushed off the reporter, saying, “I’d rather you not address this with me.” Allen admitted someone had asked her to put the bill forward but refused to say who it was.
▪ Which brings us to the likely suspect, Rex Sinquefield, the St. Louis multimillionaire who so far is bankrolling the “Vote No on the E-tax” campaigns in Kansas City and St. Louis.
The Sinquefield-backed group recently released an ad targeting Mayor Sly James because “he finds money for wasteful, big business pet projects.” Sinquefield’s factually challenged advocates fail to realize neither project — extending the streetcar line or renovating Kansas City International Airport — has anything to do with the E-tax.
Sinquefield’s years-long bid to get rid of the tax has had one success: He’s the reason Kansas Citians must waste hundreds of thousands of dollars every five years to hold elections on the future of the earnings tax. That’s because statewide voters in 2010 fell for his $10 million campaign to put the issue on the ballot on a regular basis.
▪ Over at the Show-Me Institute, a think tank co-founded by Sinquefield, staff members Patrick Tuohey and Patrick Ishmael are cheerleaders for Sinquefield’s point of view.
But the hallmark of Show-Me’s efforts to eliminate the E-tax is its abject inability to actually show compelling reasons to do that.
Ishmael recently suggested a few policy changes for Kansas City to consider in coming up with a better taxing system.
One was “curb cronyism.” Sounds great — until you realize the supposed “cronies” are the businesses like Cerner, Burns & McDonnell and dozens of others that are investing billions of private dollars in creating jobs in Kansas City.
Ishmael says the city “gives away nearly $100 million in special breaks” each year, implying this is almost half of the earnings tax revenues.
Oops. The total amount of earnings taxes diverted to businesses is less than $18 million a year.
Eliminate all of that subsidy and it doesn’t even make up for the loss of 10 percent of earnings tax receipts annually.
Ishmael also offers the tried-and-true call to reform city spending. He said the can restructure city pensions, something the city has already done without going to the defined contribution plans that could arguably save a few dollars but wouldn’t politically fly with thousands of police and fire employees.
Here’s a dandy: Privatize the water department. That would generate some funds for the city on a one-time basis. In exchange, the public could give up power over future water and sewer rate increases. By the way, the agency pays for itself and has nothing whatsoever to do with the earnings tax.
Facts aren’t on the side of opponents. But Sinquefield and his minions will continue their attacks in the campaign’s waning days.
Fortunately, smart Kansas City voters get the final say on April 5.