Guest Commentary

Gwendolyn Grant: Kansas City’s Question 4 levels economic playing field

Blight on Kansas City’s East Side would be addressed with a one-eighth-cent sales tax, writes Gwendolyn Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City.
Blight on Kansas City’s East Side would be addressed with a one-eighth-cent sales tax, writes Gwendolyn Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City. The Kansas City Star

An increase of one-eighth of one cent in our sales tax is not too much to ask Kansas Citians to invest in revitalizing an area plagued by poverty, blight and crime because of decades of neglect and a dearth of public and private investment. An increase of one-eighth of one cent is not too much to ask of Kansas Citians to invest in a better future for people who reside in the Prospect Corridor. An increase of one-eighth of one cent is not too much to pay to create jobs, reduce crime and spawn economic development on Kansas City’s East Side. An increase of one-eighth of one cent is not too much to manifest our commitment to creating healthy communities in the central city.

The One City Initiative will generate approximately $8.5 million annually to foster catalytic equity funding, reduce blight, combat crime and defray some of the extraordinary costs that adversely impact the financial feasibility of many inner-city economic development projects. One City revenues can be used to transform a desolate corridor into a thriving cultural heritage community and marketplace similar to Chinatown in San Francisco or Little Italy in New York. Revenues can be invested in ShotSpotter gunfire-sensing technology to fight crime, for blight removal and for streetscapes at the intersections where Prospect Avenue meets 31st, 39th and 63rd Streets.

Some opponents of One City argue that the boundaries — Ninth Street on the north, Gregory on the south, the Paseo on the west and Indiana Avenue on the east — are not inclusive enough. I counter that the targeted corridor is the area with the greatest need and therefore the area that should benefit initially. Simply put, it is triage. When faced with limited resources, the most efficacious approach is to channel all available resources to the areas in critical condition. When the most critical issues are mitigated, renewal and stabilization will spread across the East Side.

Others posit that sales taxes are regressive and most burdensome on low-income residents who can least afford to pay. They are. Yet history tells us that Kansas Citians — including a majority of low-income residents of the inner city — have voted for not one or two, but multiple sales tax increases to renovate Union Station and the Truman Sports Complex, develop the Power & Light District, expand the zoo, make citywide capital improvements, fund public safety facilities, and support the Parks and Recreation Department.

Time after time, low-income, civic-minded, inner-city residents voted “yes” to move our city forward while their East Side neighborhoods were left behind, devoid of decent housing, retail services, grocers, banks and safe play areas for their children — amenities that are essential for livability.

Kansas City is moving in the right direction for two-thirds of its population. Residential and commercial development in the Northland are phenomenal and great for this city. Downtown, with its River Market, Power & Light District, Sprint Center, Crossroads and Crown Center, is in the midst of a renaissance. Midtown, the Country Club Plaza, Brookside and the southwest corridor are retail, entertainment and residential havens. New housing and the Cerner complex are catalysts for revitalizing south Kansas City. Unfortunately, the roughly one-third of the city’s population who reside on the East Side is not participating in the boom. We are, in effect, two cities — one livable and prosperous, the other impoverished and deteriorating.

For a small tax for a relatively short period, with a 10-year sunset, and a mandatory process for public input via public hearings and a statutory requirement that the City Council approve each project and expenditure, we can bridge the divide and make Kansas City One City, livable for all residents — north, south, west and, yes indeed, east.

Gwendolyn Grant is president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City.

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