January 18, 2013

Kansas City’s Financial Plan: There Is No Plan

Since 2003, Kansas City’s spending has increased by 42 percent, raising the city’s debt to a whopping $1.6 billion (from $517 million in 2003). The city’s population has grown just 4.2 percent in that same time. But there appears to be no plan to halt the spending.

Instead, it appears officials are willing to consider spending even more of the citizens’ taxpayer dollars, not on necessary services, but on items such as sidewalks, bike lanes, and light rail.

Kansas City’s Citizens’ Association, self-described as the city’s oldest non-partisan community organization, presented the astonishing numbers and an analysis of the city’s long-term financial future at a forum on Thursday. Association Chairman Dan Cofran developed a daunting, two-page primer on city finances.

The Association reported that Fitch Ratings downgraded its outlook on Kansas City’s credit to negative. That downgrade does not include the recent Kansas City taxes or the impending 15 percent annual water rate increase to cover a mandated sewer renovation.

Something needs to be done but officials do not appear to know how or where to start, and did not present any concrete plans to address the situation.

Panelists such as Kansas City Councilwoman Jan Marcason and City Manager Troy Schulte only agreed that the city must make the tough decisions that it has failed to do in the past, such as revamping the sewers. However, what those tough decisions might be were barely discussed. Marcason also declined to cite examples of spending that the City Council has rejected.

Even worse, Kansas City seems to have no serious plan for responding to Kansas’ recent tax reductions and eliminations. In fact, Schulte said Kansas City should not “race to the bottom” on taxation and suspected that Kansans would grow to regret the cuts. Again, no plan was introduced to counter Kansas’ recent business-friendly actions.

Panelists did share the view that limits voters have placed on them — such as term limits and requiring approval of the earnings tax every five years — are burdensome. The panel failed to recognize that taxpayers took those steps to try to rein in spending and approvals for every project seeking tax incentives.

Cofran continuously asked how citizens might enforce any long-term strategic plan. Marcason suggested only “working together.” If past actions and this event are any indication, few city elected officials are willing to work together, develop a plan, or make any tough decisions.

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