By Max Goodwin
On Tuesday, Jackson County voters decided against adding a use tax for goods purchased outside the county without sales tax that would have been the same as the local sales tax rate.
The use tax would have been applied to online retailers without physical locations in the state. The tax would have gone to finance funding for road and bridge construction, financial assistance to homeless persons, and renovations to the Jackson County courthouses.
There were 34,043 (59.2%) votes against the tax and 23,478 (40.8%) votes to approve the use tax. Many see it as a signal to Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr. that voters are upset after the recent property tax assessment caused valuations to rise significantly around the county.
“It is clear that the aftermath of the Frank White tax increases has poisoned the well for any county initiative,” Jackson County Legislator Manny Abarca responded by text message after the results were released.
“When folks are willing to sacrifice solutions for homelessness and stressed roads and bridges in their community, it is clear that something is seriously wrong. The silver lining is that I saw recall petitioners at several Kansas City polling locations today and presume that an equivalent amount was out in Eastern Jackson County.”
Voters within Kansas City limits favored the measure by a margin of 64.3 percent to 35.7 percent, compared to those who live throughout the rest of Jackson County who were against the measure by a margin of 74.25 percent to 25.75 percent. Voter turnout in Kansas City was 10.45 percent, while 14.7 percent in the rest of Jackson County. S
Six of the nine Jackson County legislators voted in May to have the question on the ballot this past August rather than now, but Frank White Jr. urged legislators to wait for the November election. White allowed the deadline to submit the measure onto the August ballot to pass without signing it. The legislature clerk instructed the Kansas City Election Board and Jackson County Election Board to place the measure on the August ballot. A judge later ruled she did not have that legal authority.
White received his wish with the use tax on the November ballot rather than the August ballot. Still, he seems to have underestimated the anger from the electorate. Voters still said on Tuesday that they’ve had enough tax increases in Jackson County.
“I believe the voters made the right choice,” Jackson County Legislator Sean Smith said. “With the challenges we’ve had with assessments and other issues in the county, we need to earn the trust of voters before we should expect any agreement on new revenue sources.”
“Fiscal responsibility is fundamental in the county and has to form the foundation of quality government.”
Smith says Jackson County needs to make changes to the assessment and appeal process for future years.
“This has been a very challenging process for 50,000 people or more,” Smith said. “That’s an awful lot of people to go back to and ask for more money in addition to an off-cycle election when not a lot of the people vote. The people that are mad about assessments were, I think, a lion’s share of the people that turned out.”