KC soars while Johnson County falls
The Kansas City Star
Kansas Citians and their indefatigable mayor Sly James are the big winners in the aftermath of Tuesday’s elections.
And Johnson Countians are the big, big losers.
Kansas City voters showed they are willing to use more public funds to provide better basic services, especially for parks, roads and sewers.
Johnson Countians showed they are prepared to cut, cut and cut some more when it comes to government spending.
If you’re looking for a leader in providing a superior quality of life for this region, Kansas City has just put in a huge stake to that claim.
Meanwhile, Johnson Countians look like they are ready to retrench after years of being the area’s movers and shakers.
Think this goes too far?
Then check this out.
Kansas Citians who live in Republican-dominated Platte County voted 55-45 percent on Tuesday in favor of a new half-cent sales tax to bolster spending on city parks and roads. So much for all the hoopla about how GOP voters hate extra taxes, especially in this tough economy. The increase also was approved by city voters living in Jackson and Clay counties.
My takeaway: With the highly popular James leading the charge, the city provided a credible, nonpartisan plan to improving the community’s assets. Voters decided to embrace it.
They wanted to restore some employees and programs to the Parks and Recreation Department. Kansas Citians showed they won’t mind spending more public revenue — $3 million a year — to bolster an agency that’s been recognized as one of the nation’s best for years but has fallen on hard times lately. Residents told City Hall they are willing to pay for cleaner parks, community centers with longer hours and other enhanced parks programs.
As for roads, Kansas Citians finally said enough is enough, and gave permission to spend at least an extra $15 million a year on smoother streets.
Voters also backed the use of $500 million in revenue bonds to upgrade sewers, paid for with higher sewer rates.
Meanwhile, the view is much grimmer over in Johnson County.
On Tuesday voters gave resounding primary victories to ultra-conservative Republican state Senate candidates in four of the five most hotly contested races in the county. The candidates supported by Gov. Sam Brownback appear ready to take control of the entire Legislature unless Democrats somehow rally in November.
The victories by the ultra-conservatives endanger state funds for keeping Johnson County schools well-financed. Plus, the potential is much higher that public money for services to seniors and low-income residents — both fast-growing parts of Johnson County’s population — will be slashed in Topeka.
But there’s more bad news for Johnson County’s future.
All the candidates for an open County Commission seat ran on slogans that they are against higher taxes.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Well, the county has been cutting its library hours and personnel in recent months. The county also has had to trim future spending goals for its other public amenities, especially its renowned parks system.
Where are the people speaking up for using a little bit more tax money to keep Johnson County as the premier place to live in the region?
They have been cowed — outspent and outvoted by ultra-conservative forces and residents who seem bent on creating a grimmer future for the county when it comes to superb public services.
Add in several more facts.
Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan., will get Google fiber first, making dozens of neighborhoods in those cities more attractive to current and future residents when it comes to high-speed Internet connections.
Downtown voters just endorsed creation of a streetcar taxing district, with a vote on funding the two-mile system to come this fall.
The Kansas City Zoo is on its way to being one of the country’s best, again thanks to a positive vote on a sales tax by local voters in 2011.
Finally, Kansas City just stole the headquarters of a 1,000-employee firm from Lenexa. Freightquote will get tens of millions of dollars in local and state subsidies to build its headquarters in south Kansas City.
Wait. That’s just another inane use of corporate welfare. You can’t win them all.
For now, Johnson Countians have taken a step backward when it comes to being leaders for this area.
And Kansas Citians have taken a bold stride toward upgrading crucial basic services, intent on building a better future for this region.
To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at voices.kansascity.com and appears on “Ruckus” at 7 tonight on KCPT. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah.