November 4, 2012

Kansas City Star Skittish on Streetcar Proposal, and Rightfully So

I have written about how Kansas Citians living in a newly-created streetcar district will be casting ballots by mail to determine if a special tax will be levied to pay for the city’s proposed trolleys. Those ballots were mailed out on Tuesday, and the voters who received them have until Dec. 11 to return the ballots to the court administering the election in order to have the votes counted. As I said, the method of voting chosen here, hoops and all, virtually guarantees that the tax measure will pass, and likely with only a tiny fraction of the eligible voters participating. The vote creating the district passed by a 2-to-1 margin . . . but with a pathetic participation of 8 percent of registered voters. That is a tiny sample for an issue as major as this one.

Of course, just because the tax will likely pass does not justify it as good policy. The Kansas City Star — which is located in the streetcar district and, therefore, will bear some of the brunt of the new taxes — has real concerns about the proposal.

But the pluses are outweighed by the risks that would come with the new taxes imposed only in the special transportation district created to support the streetcar system. The district encompasses the core of downtown […]. That includes the Kansas City Star which is willing to pay more for a streetcar system that offers a better financed plan.

Within the relatively narrow area, the sales tax would rise by a full percentage point. Property taxes would go up as well — residential by nearly 9 percent and commercial by 5 percent.

Supporters are gambling that the higher taxes — and higher rents that would follow — won’t unduly retard downtown’s growth. However, the risk is real that the increased taxes could do just that.

Kansas Citians are among the most heavily-taxed people in the Midwest. For business owners in the proposed district, the streetcar tax is just another burden job creators will have to shoulder. As long as they remain in the district, of course.

The Star’s Lewis Diuguid was right to say back in May that private funding should be playing a far more central role in the streetcar project. Private donations were a driving force behind the building of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Why can’t it be so with the Kansas City streetcar as well?

A project of the


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