South KC Perspective
The Issues on the Ballot
By John Sharp
With 13 separate issues on the ballot besides the candidate races and yes/no retention votes on 13 judges, the November 8 ballot in KCMO and Jackson County is the longest in my memory.
Although a lot of money has been spent on advertising supporting or opposing many of these issues, some very important ones have barely been publicly discussed.
First on the ballot, after the candidate races and the retention vote on judges, are five proposed amendments to the Missouri state constitution.
Parks & Conservation Tax
Amendment 1 would continue for 10 years a one-tenth cent sales tax that is split evenly between funding for state parks and historic sites and funding for soil and water conservation. Established in 1984, this tax generates about $90 million annually. This issue has broad statewide support and is expected to pass. However, Freedom, Inc., a Kansas City African-American political organization, does oppose it due to concerns that very few state parks or historic sites have been established in our metropolitan area.
Campaign Financing Restrictions
Amendment 2 basically rewrites Missouri’s laws governing political campaign financing and prohibits donors from giving more than $2,600 per election to any candidate for statewide office or the Missouri General Assembly or more than $25,000 per election to a political party.
It also totally bans contributions from unions and corporations.
These restrictions would not apply to campaigns for the U.S. House or Senate, and would not restrict the amount of money a candidate could contribute to his or her own campaign.
I thought this was a great idea when I first heard about it since the amount of money being spent on campaigns in Missouri today, most of it from extremely wealthy individuals or well-heeled special interest groups, is outrageous.
However, after reading this amendment in its entirety which fills almost two full size newspaper pages in small print, I have become increasingly concerned. It is very lengthy, and putting such detailed language in the constitution means it can never be changed at all without a statewide public vote.
My other concern is by strictly limiting what donors can contribute, it would give wealthy individuals willing to finance their own campaigns a great advantage over their opponents.
Amendment 3 would raise Missouri’s lowest in the nation 17-cent a pack cigarette tax by 15 cents a year for the next four years starting January 1 for major brands.
It would also impose an additional 67-cent a pack increase effective January 1 on off-brand cigarettes manufactured by companies that did not participate in the 1998 Missouri settlement of damages for questionable marketing practices of the major brands.
Since this campaign is being bankrolled almost entirely by RAI Services Co., a subsidiary of Reynolds American, Inc., the parent company of R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., it should come as no surprise that only 5 to 10 percent of the revenue generated could be used for smoking cessation and prevention programs. At least 75 percent would be used for early childhood education and 10 to 15 percent would be used for early childhood health and development programs.
Critics say this cigarette tax measure could actually increase sales by the major brands by hiking the tax on their off brand competitors so much higher beginning January 1.
It also contains language regarding abortion and stem-cell research that are likely to be challenged in court, meaning that the tax might not even take effect for years while these matters are being litigated.
Groups that normally would be expected to support increases in cigarette taxes to deter people from smoking such as the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association in Missouri all oppose this measure.
Sales Tax Expansion Ban
Amendment 4 would ban any state or local sales or use taxes on any service and transaction not subject to a sales or use tax as of January 1, 2015.
The campaign for this proposal is being financed primarily by the National and Missouri Associations of Realtors, with much lesser contributions from the banking industry. Proponents have raised concerns about several recent unsuccessful proposals in Missouri to extend sales or use taxes that are considered regressive to services and transactions that have always been exempt from such taxes.
These could include the services of accountants, attorneys, barbers/beauticians, day care providers, health care professionals, mechanics, Realtors and other professions.
This proposal would not ban increases in the rates of current sales or use taxes.
Richard Sheets, deputy Director of the Missouri Municipal League, told me the League opposes this measure primarily due to concerns about how the word “transaction” could be interpreted by the courts as we switch to a digital economy. He used the example of purchasing an online version of a book instead of a hard copy, and questioned whether that would be exempt if the amendment passes or not.
Voter ID Law
Amendment 6 would authorize the Missouri General Assembly to pass a law requiring persons to present a valid government-issued photo ID to vote.
The General Assembly passed a watered-down version of such a bill in September, overriding Governor Jay Nixon’s veto, but it will only go into effect if this measure passes, and then would take effect June 1.
That law allows persons who only have a non-photo form of identification to vote if they sign a statement of who they are under penalty of perjury. However, if Amendment 6 passes, the General Assembly could amend that law to require persons to submit a current government-issued photo ID in order to vote with no exceptions.
Proponents claim this measure would eliminate voter fraud, but the only type of fraud it would prohibit is voter impersonation, and they could site no recent instances of that in Missouri.
Opponents including the AARP have noted that many seniors who no longer drive don’t have current driver’s licenses or other government-issued photo IDs and could be barred from voting until they go through the hassle of getting one even though they have been regular voters for decades.
The ballot language for this proposal notes the cost to the state and local governments if it passes could exceed $2.1 million annually. Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, the state’s top election official, has said that approximately 220,000 Missourians could be initially disenfranchised by implementation of this amendment.
The Missouri Supreme Court struck down a voter ID law in 2006 ruling it placed a “heavy and substantial burden” on the right to vote. Amending the Missouri constitution would prevent a legal challenge based on our state constitution, but would not guarantee that federal courts would not strike down such a law for violating the U.S. constitution as has occurred in four states recently.
If this costly amendment survives an almost certain court challenge if voters approve it, expect much longer lines at polling places while some voters sign statements that they are who they say they are.
Another Tobacco Tax
Proposition A is another tobacco tax that would increase the current 17-cent tax per pack of cigarettes by an additional 23 cents in three two-year increments on January 1, 2017, 2019 and 2021. It would also levy an additional 5 percent tax on the manufacturer’s invoice price before any discounts for other tobacco products.
Money generated by these taxes would be restricted for use only for transportation infrastructure improvements.
This measure contains “poison pill” language to attempt to deter any further increases in taxes on tobacco products by automatically repealing the new taxes if any increase in taxes for any tobacco products is ever certified to be on any future statewide or local ballot.
This measure is being heavily supported by off-brand cigarette companies and the Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association which adamantly oppose Amendment 3. It is opposed by the same health organizations that oppose Amendment 3.
If both Amendment 3 and Proposition A pass, the courts will have to decide if only the one getting the most votes goes into effect, if they both do or if neither does.
COMBAT Tax Extension
Jackson County Question 1 would renew the county quarter-cent COMBAT sales tax to fund substance abuse and violence prevention programs for nine years. The tax was initially approved in 1989, and has been renewed in 1996, 2003 and 2009.
Originally conceived as strictly an anti-drug program, voters added violence prevention to its mission in 2009. In 2015 COMBAT funded 50 substance abuse and violence prevention programs as well as additional programs that were part of an Anti-Violence Special Initiative.
COMBAT funds the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program for county 5th graders and middle schoolers and also provides funding to help support the award winning Jackson County Drug Court’s efforts to rehabilitate first-time, non-violent drug offenders and help them achieve sobriety and find jobs.
Children’s Services Fund
Jackson County Question 2 would impose a new one-eighth cent sales tax for seven years to fund services for at-risk children from birth through 19.
Proponents of this measure note that in a recent year over 4,000 Jackson County children were homeless, and today nearly 1,800 children are living in foster care. They point out there is often a wait time of one to four weeks at area shelters.
This measure would establish a Community Children’s Services Fund governed by a 9-member citizen board appointed by the county executive, with at least one member residing in each county legislative district.
The Fund could contract with public or licensed not-for-profit agencies to provide services to abused, neglected, homeless or emotionally disturbed children and youth, such as temporary shelter, counseling and substance abuse and mental health treatment.
Seven other Missouri counties, including adjoining Lafayette County, have children’s services funds. St. Charles County ranked 86th out of Missouri’s 114 counties for the condition of children before approving the fund in 2004. Now it ranks first. (Jackson County currently ranks 89th.)
County Seeks a No Vote
Jackson County Question 3 would discontinue the county’s ability to collect local sales tax on the titling of motor vehicles, trailers, boats and outboard motors purchased from a source other than a licensed Missouri dealer.
If this passes it would put Missouri dealers at a tremendous competitive disadvantage to their Kansas counterparts just across the state line, while significantly reducing county revenue. Some Missouri dealerships might move across the state line.
Unless persons want to risk losing these major businesses and jobs to Kansas, voting no on this measure is as close to a no brainer as anything on the ballot.
Unneeded Vacant Park Land
Kansas City Questions 1 & 2 which I wrote about last issue would remove vacant property at two locations from the city’s park system so it can be sold. The Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners has determined these tracts – one between 23rd and 24th Streets and the other south of Linwood Boulevard – are no longer needed.
Clay Chastain’s Latest Plan
Kansas City Question 3 which I also wrote about last issue is Clay Chastain’s latest light rail proposal to fund as much as possible of a light rail system from KCI Airport to the Cerner Innovations Campus and from Union Station to the Jackson County Sports Complex as well as a fleet of electric mini-buses.
This would be funded by a new 25-year one-eighth cent sales tax, a new 25-year one-fourth cent sales tax and by taking for 25 years beginning in 2024 the three-eighths cent sales tax used to fund the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA).
Voting no on gutting funding for the KCATA to partially fund two spines of a light rail system also seems like a no brainer to me, even though I strongly support more rail passenger service.
Library Improvement Levy
Consolidated Library District 3 (Mid-Continent Public Library) Proposition L would approve an 8-cent property tax increase for each hundred dollars of assessed valuation to fund renovation and construction of library branches and expanded library services.
If it passes, this will be the first increase in the library levy since 1983 when the levy was increased to 45 cents. It has since been rolled back to the current 32-cent rate.
Plans call for the district to renovate 28 of its 31 branches, including the Red Bridge Branch, and construct six new or replacement branches. Plans for Red Bridge include a new community room and new study/collaboration rooms as well as a new building entrance and interior renovation.
The district also plans to add additional operating hours at its branches, including the possibility of adding Sunday hours in locations where there is a demand for it.
The impact of this increase to owners of a home valued at $150,000 (which the district notes is the average home value in the district) is $22.80 annually, or $1.90 a month, less proponents note, than the average cost of a new book.