Yael T. Abouhalkah

Two big winners, three colossal losers in Kansas City’s crucial earnings tax victory

Kansas City voters obeyed this sign on Tuesday and gave a hearty thumbs up to renewing the 1 percent earnings tax for five more years.
Kansas City voters obeyed this sign on Tuesday and gave a hearty thumbs up to renewing the 1 percent earnings tax for five more years. kmyers@kcstarc.com

Congratulations, Kansas City voters. You made the right call Tuesday and renewed the crucial 1 percent earnings tax for at least another five years.

In fact, the positive vote north of the river was close to 70 percent in the “yes” category. That was actually better than the 68 percent total approval rating of the 2011 tax extension.

South of the river, supporters expected approval to reach around 80 percent. Overall, the victory should come close to the 78 percent “yes” vote in 2011.

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Here are the two big winners — and three colossal losers — from Tuesday’s election:

Winner: Mayor Sly James campaigned hard for the tax, brushing off challenges to it in his customary blustery style.

Sure, this was a big part of his job. It was essential to keep $240 million a year flowing in to support police officers and firefighters.

James stayed focused on the task at press conferences, in his state of the city speech last week and at other outings. He also did a good job talking about how City Hall under his watch has improved its public satisfaction ratings, while City Hall is more efficient with its funds.

Winner: The Kansas City business community rallied to put together a $1 million bankroll for a campaign that should never have to be waged, except for the rantings from the biggest loser in this article. (More on that in a moment.)

It was encouraging to see the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City make the firm point to voters that the earnings tax does not keep businesses out of this city. In fact, the earnings tax gives City Hall the money it needs to provide the kinds of basic services that businesses expect from a first-class community.

Loser: St. Louis area Rex Sinquefield is the multimillionaire (and you know how I hate to name call) clown who has single-handedly bankrolled campaigns to kill the earnings tax in Kansas City and St. Louis.

He also spearheaded the successful 2010 statewide vote that forces Kansas Citians and St. Louis residents to extend their earnings taxes every five years.

The huge victories for the earnings tax in Kansas City in 2011 and in 2016 would convince rational people that local voters have spoken — and they want to keep the tax. However, Sinquefield does not cotton to what the little people want. You can expect he will be back with yet another campaign to eliminate the tax in 2021. Sad!

Loser: Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer and other lawmakers who previously have proposed laws this year to kill the tax.

Here’s what Schaefer and the General Assembly could do if they really wanted to be helpful to Kansas City: Make it possible for the earnings tax vote to occur once every, say, 10 to 15 years. That would give Kansas Citians the ability to get rid of the tax but wouldn’t make it happen at such a ridiculously short interval of every five years.

Losers: The just-say-no-crowd that includes the Sinquefield-founded and supported Show-Me Institute plus Dan Coffey and his Citizens for Responsible Government group.

The Show-Me Institute could never come up with a plan that would replace $240 million a year in earnings tax revenues if they went “poof.” And Coffey has undermined his credibility by opposing almost everything James and City Hall want to do, from the new airport terminal to the new downtown streetcar line to the earnings tax.

It’s absolutely fine to criticize James and the current City Council. But along the way, you need to present other ways to make Kansas City a better place to live.

Guess what?

On Tuesday, the people who went to the polls decided that keeping the earnings tax was the best way to build that better future.

Again, congratulations to them. It was the right call.


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