Little to no support for two sales tax questions on ballot in Kansas City

Posted at 5:42 PM, Oct 30, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-30 19:43:11-04

When Kansas City voters head to the polls next week on Election Day, they’ll have to decide on two questions that no one seems to support.

Question No. 1 asks, “Shall the City of Kansas City impose a sales tax of one-quarter percent for 25 years for the purpose of funding capital improvements?”

Question No. 2 asks, “Shall the City of Kansas City impose a sales tax of one-eighth percent for 25 years for the purpose of providing a source of funds for public transportation purposes?”

The questions are the result of an ongoing battle between Kansas City leaders and activist Clay Chastain. Chastain has long touted a light rail plan for Kansas City. In 2011, Chastain gathered 4,000 signatures to force the plan to a vote.

City leaders refused, calling the plan unconstitutional because it would not raise the money needed to complete the more than $1 billion project.

“He claims that it raises $1.2 billion over 25 years,” said Mayor Sly James. “The reality is that $27 million a year would be raised by this tax. That amounts to $675 million. So it doesn't even get to where he says it should get to.”

Chastain sued the city and the Missouri Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the city must put the tax increases on the ballot. However, it doesn’t have to be tied to any specific project.

Councilman Ed Ford said the questions voters will see on Election Day are worded the exact way the court ordered.

He went on to say that no one should vote for this plan.

In fact, it seems there are no supporters for these tax increases. Not even Chastain.

“Those two ballot questions are not Clay Chastain's light rail plan anymore,” said Chastain. “They aren't the light rail initiative that 4,000 voters signed in behalf of.”

During his announcement about his intentions to run for mayor of Kansas City, Chastain said the city manipulated his plan to set it up for failure.

“It's some sort of a corrupted ballot language put forth by the city to try to ensure that the voters would vote it down,” he said.

City leaders disagree, saying they didn’t want the plan on the ballot from the beginning.

“This plan is essentially and basically flawed. It's something that won't work, can't work,” said James. “He essentially wants to finance over 40 miles of rail which will cost at least $2 to $2.5 billion with a plan that only raises $675 million over the time frame.”

Business leaders also voiced their opposition to the plan.

“It wasn't well-conceived, it hasn't been thoroughly vetted and it's not possible to execute,” said Russ Welsh, past chairman of the Board of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

Ford told 41 Action News on Thursday that if voters approve the plan, the City Council would have to decide whether it will collect the tax and if it does, then how to spend the money. However, Ford said council members haven’t discussed it at length because they’re confident it will fail.