Back to the Polls!
Special Election on Street Car, Minimum Wage
By John Sharp
The fate of three questions put on the ballot by initiative petition will be decided by Kansas City voters on Tuesday, August 8.
Question 1, put on the ballot by opponents of extension of streetcar service, would prohibit all city employees from taking any actions, including planning, to expand the streetcar system or any new fixed rail transit system without first gaining approval of voters in a citywide election. It would provide a penalty of up to $1,000 a day for noncompliance.
The board of the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance (KCRTA) opposes the measure, noting, “While seeming just to require a citywide vote for streetcar expansion, the ballot language actually contains a provision to penalize ‘all City officers, agents and employees’ $1,000 per day for engaging in any planning or preparation for streetcar or fixed rail of any kind.”
The KCRTA board went on to say, “While a citywide election may have merit, gagging public employees and elected officials with the threat of fines may be unconstitutional and expose the city to potential litigation.”
Question 2, an initiative spearheaded by rail transit advocate Clay Chastain, would enact a one-eighth cent transportation sales tax and a one-fourth cent capital improvement sales tax for constructing, maintaining and operating one or more extensions to the streetcar system. The taxation would last 25 years beginning January 1, 2018.
Such extensions might include a fleet of electric buses that would transport passengers to and from light rail stations. The extensions might include a northern rail station to KCI Airport, or from the zoo to the Cerner Innovations Campus, or from the Plaza to Brookside and south, or as much as can be constructed, maintained and operated with proceeds from the taxes.
The ordinance passed unanimously by the City Council to place this measure on the ballot made the Council’s disdain for this measure obvious, noting, “…the streetcar extension, along with the fleet of electric mini-buses promised by the committee of petitioners cannot be built with the money raised by the proposed sales taxes…”
In explaining why the proposal was being placed on the ballot instead of being challenged legally, the ordinance went on to say “…the impossibility of completion of the promised streetcar system extensions, even without regard to the maintenance and operation costs of such system or the cost of borrowing to finance the construction of the system are matters unlikely to be reviewed by the courts prior to the election…”
Question 3, an initiative supported by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, Communities Creating Opportunity, Freedom, Inc., the Metro Organization for Racial & Economic Equity, the Urban League of Greater Kansas City and a host of faith and labor groups, would enact a city minimum wage of $10 an hour beginning August 24 of this year and increasing annually by $1.25 an hour beginning September 1, 2019, until it reaches $15 in 2022.
Since the Missouri General Assembly passed a law this year that will go into effect on August 28 to preempt and nullify any local minimum wages in effect or later enacted that are higher than the state’s $7.70 an hour minimum wage, passage of this measure will almost certainly result in litigation to determine its constitutionality.