James wisely kills one tax plan, but two more emerge
The Kansas City Star
Pressed for time, Mayor Sly James on Wednesday dramatically reconfigured his tax and bond plans for Kansas City voters to consider this summer. The new plan needs work to make it understandable and acceptable for the ballot.
On a frenetic morning, James met with other City Council members to unveil three major changes to the initiatives he had released just last week. The council must approve ballot language by next Thursday for the Aug. 7 election.
The mayor abruptly decided to kill for this year a proposed $500 million bond program to repair roads, bridges, public buildings and sidewalks with a higher property tax.
It was the right move. Business leaders were pushing back, partly because they want to know whether City Hall has done all it can to cut costs before asking for such a large tax increase. James said he still hopes to bring a bond package to the April 2013 ballot. That notion has merit, given the city’s large backlog of infrastructure improvements.
James announced that his sales tax plan had morphed dramatically.
Now he wants voters to approve a half-cent sales tax increase with all of the money going to the Parks and Recreation Department; last week parks was going to split the added $32 million a year with the Water Services Department.
However, as part of the mayor’s new initiative, the parks department would lose some of the city’s general fund revenues it now gets. That money then would be diverted to boost financing for road repairs. It’s not a scheme that can be explained in a campaign sound bite; City Hall must be prepared to more clearly explain it to voters so they do not perceive it as a shell game.
The mayor also renewed his general support for a responsible ballot question that asks voters to eliminate up to $14 million in other city taxes and fees — but only if voters endorse the new sales tax.
Finally, the mayor put on the table a new and potentially positive initiative, asking voters to endorse a $500 million bond issue for sewer improvements.
This debt would be serviced with the double-digit rate increases already in the pipeline for the next decade or so. The federal government has mandated a $2.5 billion sewer upgrade plan, and issuing these bonds would help make key early improvements.
City Council members are scheduled today to discuss the mayor’s revamped package. Elected officials have just eight days to determine whether voters will get a straightforward election on crucial issues this August.