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Over the last several years, about a half dozen former reporters and editors at The Kansas City Star have bailed on the paper and gone to work at the University of Missouri-Kansas City as the university launched an aggressive effort to raise its profile and enrollment.

The first to go — and the highest-ranking person — was then-Assistant Managing Editor Anne Spenner, who ran The Star’s Metro desk for several years. Others followed her, including several reporters and editors from The Star’s features section, which Spenner headed before moving to Metro.

Spenner got a fancy title — vice chancellor of marketing and communications — and the horizon looked beautiful. Her job, essentially, was to protect and promote the UMKC “brand.”

Back at The Star, her move left some people wondering if she had made a mistake because her newspaper career appeared to be on an upward arc. In making the change, however, she must have decided that the cracking foundation underpinning the newspaper business didn’t bode well for the long term. So, she bolted and soon started hiring other Star staffers with whom she had worked closely.

For all of them, the horizon looked bright…until yesterday. Now, Spenner and some of the others who left the paper must be second-guessing their decisions to leave the paper.

That’s because yesterday, The Star published online — and in today’s printed edition — a 5,000-plus-word investigative story that essentially alleges that UMKC’s Henry W. Bloch School of Management cheated its way to the top of some prestigious business-school rankings. The main story is titled “UMKC’s misleading march to the top.” 

Reporting and writing the story were Mike Hendricks, a former Metro columnist who returned to reporting a few years ago, and Mara Rose Williams, The Star’s longtime education reporter.

One academic study, published in the Journal of Product Innovation and Management, rated the Bloch school the top business school in the nation, ahead of such universities as Harvard and Stanford.

The Star blew the lid off that report and others. At the time that study was written, the reporters said, “the two authors were working on the UMKC campus as visiting scholars at the Bloch School.” The authors also had close ties to a UMKC professor with whom they had previously worked at a Chinese university, and they apparently structured the study so that the Bloch School received the top ranking.

In other words, the whole thing was rigged. The Star said the man who was dean of the school when the hanky-panky was taking place — Teng-Kee Tan — resigned last year “for health reasons and sent word that he was unable to respond to requests for comment.”

I’ll bet he’s sick.

One of the people who couldn’t weasel out of talking to the reporters was university spokesman John Martellaro, himself a former Star reporter and editor. Martellaro was paraphrased as saying that UMKC was not embarrassed by the disclosures of impropriety.

Hendricks and Williams completely disrobed the Bloch School, however, and nothing that any university spokesman says can dress it up.

What we’ve got is a university — not just the Bloch School — lodged under a pile of shame. I would think nearly everyone who works there feels embarrassed. The stain is broad and deep. It’s going to be pretty, pretty difficult to promote the UMKC “brand.”

**

Years ago, when the newspaper business was going strong, most of us reporters and editors would scowl when asked about the possibility of moving to public relations jobs. We wouldn’t “go to the dark side,” we vowed, where we would have to “spin” facts in favor of the institution or company that was paying our salaries.

As the newspaper business faltered, however, many reporters and editors had to change their tune and seek haven in the world of public relations, promotions and marketing.

I can’t blame Spenner and the others who went to UMKC. It would be reasonable to think that you could hold your head high while working at the biggest university in western Missouri.

But, no, cheating takes place everywhere, even at institutions of higher learning.

The whole mess makes me very glad that I was able to squeeze out a career in the newspaper business. I made it to 60, got the pizza and sheet-cake retirement party and drifted happily off into substitute teaching, golfing, blogging, political activism and volunteer work.

I realize, though, that if I had been born in the ’50s or ’60s, instead of the mid-1940s, I might have been the guy who had to try to maintain a straight face and tell Hendricks and Williams that UMKC was not embarrassed by a full-fledged scandal.

 

We’re rolling.

The “No on 7″ campaign is now in full swing, with yard signs flying out of my car trunk; fliers being distributed; 60,000 pieces of campaign literature about to go out to St. Louis area voters; and the proposed constitutional amendment getting hammered in the letters to the editor section of The Star.

I’ve distributed about 75 yard signs the last two days, and they relay a strong message. Take a look:

P1030993

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To me, the point about the trucks is perhaps the biggest vulnerability in the proponents’ argument in favor of a new 3/4 cent sales tax to finance transportation projects statewide. It’s almost incomprehensible that the proponents would try to sneak past the voters a huge sales-tax increase that would give the trucks — which do the most damage to our highways — a total pass.

It’s definitely an insult to the intelligence of the Missouri voters. The “insulters” are the General Assembly majority that got this on the ballot and the special interests that would benefit from spending, oh, about $6 billion of new sales-tax revenue generated in the first 10 years of the tax.

The special interests are, primarily, the “heavy construction” companies, the engineering firms and the suppliers of materials such as concrete and asphalt. Collectively, they’re better known as “the concrete cartel.”

The heavy construction associations in Kansas City and St. Louis and the state association in Jefferson City are pouring hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign. The “Industry Advancement Fund” on our side of the state has put in more than $600,000 alone.

I think this would be a difficult proposal to pass, even if there was no organized opposition. Unfortunately for the proponents, a St. Louis couple — Tom and Debra Shrout, who have deep backgrounds in transportation planning — are running a very effective, highly visible opposing campaign through their Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions campaign committee. I am working closely with them.

Their committee is not deeply funded — spending might hit $25,000 — but it doesn’t have to be. On an issue like this, the goal is to simply reinforce people’s instincts that a new statewide sales tax is a terrible way to pay for billions of dollars of transportation projects. The fair way to go is to put before the voters a proposed increase in the state fuel tax, which, at 17 cents a gallon, was sixth lowest in the nation as of last year. In addition, the gas tax hasn’t changed since 1996 — almost 20 years. It is a direct user tax, and that is where those who want more money for the Missouri Department of Transportation should be looking.

Jefferson City resident Dennis Morrissey is one of many people who agree with that line of thinking. In a letter to the editor in today’s KC Star, Morrissey said, “If more funds are needed to maintain our roads, we should consider increasing the user-based fuel tax.”

So, what the hell was the General Assembly thinking about when it proposed a wholesale shifting of the funding burden from highway users to the general population? 

Well, some people theorize that the proponents were guided by voter surveys showing, purportedly, that a general sales tax was more palatable than a higher gas tax.

I don’t believe it for a minute. The sales tax is the most regressive of all taxes, and people are sick of it. I think the special interests pushed hard to put the onus on the general public, and a General Assembly majority caved.

But I think that on Aug. 5 the voters are going to send the General Assembly and the special interests a strong message:

Get back to where you once belonged. 

**

You’ve seen our yard signs. Now here’s a look one of the proponents’ yard signs.

P1040008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think that sign is emblematic of the proponents’ entire campaign…listing badly.

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In addition to the yard signs, we have a really good billboard — 48 feet by 14 feet — on southbound Noland Road at 35th Street in Independence.

Here’s what that looks like:

P1040003

**

If you would like a yard sign, let me know. Send e-mail to jim.fitzpatrick06@gmail.com

A majority of the Missouri General Assembly and others have resorted to shameful shenanigans in an attempt to convince voters to approve a three-quarter-cent sales tax for transportation.

One of the worst shenanigans is the duplicitous ballot language.

Here’s the language you’re going to see on the ballot relating to proposed Constitutional Amendment No. 7:

Should the Missouri Constitution be changed to enact a temporary sales tax of three-quarters of one percent to be used solely to fund state and local highways, roads, bridges and transportation projects for ten years, with priority given to repairing unsafe roads and bridges?

This change is expected to produce $480 million annually to the state’s Transportation and Safety and Job Creation Fund and $54 million for local governments. Increases in the gas tax will be prohibited. This revenue shall only be used for transportation purposes and cannot be diverted for other uses.

A voter looking at that language for the first time might say to himself, “Well it’s only a temporary tax…looks like it’s only for 10 years, so maybe I should vote for this.”

That’s exactly what a majority of legislators and the “concrete cartel” backing this unfair proposal want voters to think.

The thing is, though, the legislative majority — as well as the heavy constructors, engineers and concrete and asphalt suppliers who badly want to see Amendment 7 approved — have no intention whatsoever of this being a “temporary sales tax” that would expire after 10 years.

Just as with almost every other tax that comes along, the framers want this new tax to go on indefinitely.

You have to dig into the guts of this pig, though, to find out the framers’ true intentions. Those intentions are laid out in House Joint Resolution No. 68, which the General Assembly approved this year and which authorized the upcoming election on Amendment 7.

The resolution states, in part:

“Upon voter approval of the temporary three-quarters of one percent state sales and use tax in this section…this section shall be effective January 1, 2015, and shall continue for ten years. This section shall be resubmitted to the voters for approval at the general election in 2024…Every ten years thereafter, the secretary of state shall submit to the voters for approval the issue of whether the sales and use tax authorized by this section shall be imposed for another ten-year period.”

You get the picture. It would be back on the ballot in 2024. If re-approved then, it would be back in 2034, and so on.

temporary

…again and again.

History has shown that once a tax is in place, especially a sales tax, it’s very difficult to pull the plug. The voters just shrug their shoulders, essentially, and say, “Well, we’ve been paying it already, so I guess we can go on living with it.”

Keep in mind that the ballot language, with that reference to a “temporary” tax, is not the governing language. The governing language is in the resolution, the legal document approved by the General Assembly.

So, when you see Amendment 7 on the ballot, just know it’s not as innocent as it appears; it’s a trick and a sham.

**

You might be interested in how the House and Senate voted on HJR 68.

On April 29, the Missouri Senate approved the bill on a 22-10 vote. Among area senators, Sen. Jolie Justus of Kansas City voted “no,” while Paul LeVota of Independence and Shalonn “Kiki” Curls of Kansas City voted “yes.” All three are Democrats.

The Missouri House approved the bill on a 105-43 vote May 14.

I know that most of you are thrilled about me being here to report on developments at The Kansas City Star, where I worked for a mostly happy 36 years.

If I wasn’t here, a lot of you wouldn’t know about things like this:

Starting today, The Star has eliminated its Op-Ed page on Mondays. That means that henceforth on Mondays, we’ll only be getting one page of editorial content, instead of two.

The nub: The ever-shrinking Star gets even thinner on Monday, when it already hung in the air for several seconds before landing like a feather on the front lawn.

For those of you who might not be familiar with the lingo, the Op-Ed page is the page that is opposite the main editorial page, which, itself, is home to editorials written by editorial board members; letters to the editor; and Lee Judge’s editorial cartoon.

The Op-Ed page is where you find the syndicated columnists — Paul Krugman, David Brooks, Nicholas Kristof, to name a few — along with excerpts from other papers’ editorials; syndicated cartoons; and commentaries submitted by local residents. (Usually, those run under the “As I See It” heading.)

In a puzzling move, I thought, the Monday reduction was made with no accompanying note or explanation. In the past, when The Star has made significant content changes, it has usually offered an explanation…like several years ago, when the paper eliminated the stand-alone Metro section and collapsed the local news into the A section.

The editors rationalized that by telling us we were going to get a heftier A section, chock full of news from everywhere. Gradually, of course, the A section drifted back to its customary page count (which varies one day to the next) and The Star saved money by using less newsprint.

I presume that’s what’s behind the new Monday reduction: cost saving.

But this time The Star didn’t bother to inform readers about the switcheroo. I guess I understand the rationale: There’s no way to put a pretty face on it, so why would you want to tell readers you’re giving them less?

Ah, but fortunately for you, my readers, JimmyC is here, watching like a line judge at Wimbledon.

As soon as I got to the editorial page today, I knew larceny was afoot.

On the plus side, the page featured two editorials that stretched from the top of the page to the bottom. From there, though, it went downhill. Instead of a half page of letters to the editor, which is not unusual, it featured one letter — bottom right — which was dubbed “Letter of the Week.” That letter, about the new Southwest High School plan, was laid out across two columns, instead of the customary one-column format for letters.

(Can hardly wait for next week’s “letter of the week,” I tell ya.)

Above the letter was a syndicated editorial cartoon, and above that, at the top of the page, was a column by public editor Derek Donovan. It was a banner day for Derek! He hasn’t had play like that on the editorial page for years!

…Despite the conspicuous format changes, I still wondered if, maybe, this wasn’t just an aberration — an odd circumstance that would be rectified next Monday.

So, I sent an e-mail to editorial page editor Miriam Pepper, inquiring about the change.

Didn’t hear back. Well, it’s summer, she’s probably on vacation.

Later, I sent an e-mail to managing editor Steve Shirk. I got an auto-reply saying he was out of the office this week.

Not to be denied, I donned my Sherlock Holmes disguise and worked my way into the bowels of The Star’s editorial operation. And there I got confirmation that it wasn’t temporary at all; alas, it’s permanent.

So, go ahead and cry your eyes out, readers. Mondays just got a little grimmer for us dead-tree-media folks.

One big Kansas City company, The Kansas City Star, and one big political organization, Freedom Inc., have taken terribly mistaken and irresponsible positions on Missouri’s proposed Amendment 7 — the three-quarter-cent sales tax for transportation.

The Star’s July 13 editorial endorsing Amendment 7 came as a big shock to me, especially coming a few days after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch lambasted Amendment 7 as “an abomination.” The P-D editorial went on to say pointedly and correctly, “A general sales tax is the wrong way to fund transportation needs.”

Freedom Inc.’s endorsement also surprised me, but not as much as The Star’s, because it has longstanding political and financial ties to the Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City, which is one of the biggest promoters of the tax. (The association has pumped more than $600,000 into the campaign committee working for Amendment 7 on Aug. 5.)

Let’s consider each endorsement and the politics behind each.

The Star 

My hopes for a Star recommendation against Amendment 7 got a boost when Lewis Diuguid, an editorial board member, wrote a piece on July 9, reporting that the AAA Midwest Traveler magazine had endorsed Amendment 7.

That was no surprise, of course, but Diuguid editorialized by saying that Missouri “has one of the lowest fuel taxes in the country.” And he added, “The sales tax is regressive and hurts low-income residents the most.”

That was an indicator to me that The Star would do the right thing.

The editorial board consists of six people — publisher Mi-Ai Parrish, editorial page editor Miriam Pepper and writers Yael Abouhalkah, Barb Shelly, Steve Paul and Diuguid. The publisher always has the final say and can overrule all the others, if he or she chooses to do so.

I don’t know how Parrish voted, but I would presume she voted to endorse. In its subsequent, limp-wristed endorsement, The Star said, “Approval of the higher state sales tax, for the first time, would make it possible to use large sums of Missouri dollars for public transit projects.”

Well, now, that’s just about as exciting a proposition as Kansas City getting the World Cup, isn’t it?

The editorial board also fell into the trap that proponents have set by contending that voters have shown a disinclination to raise the gas tax and, thus, the sales tax is the only way to go. “After years of inaction and previous defeats of other funding plans,” the editorial said, “Amendment No. 7 is the pragmatic way to meet the challenge” of transportation department funding.

Well, from what I’ve read, the last time a new transportation tax was on the statewide ballot was August 2002, when voters were asked to approve a four-cent-per-gallon gas tax and a half-cent sales tax increase. That went down to a nearly 3-1 defeat.

So, proponents’ suggestions that voters would prefer a sales tax to raising the gas tax — at 17 cents, the sixth lowest in the nation — are simply untrue.

…So, what happened inside the hallowed walls of The Star and why?

It’s this simple: The editorial board allowed itself to be seduced by a city-MoDOT agreement that would funnel $124 million in sales-tax revenue to Kansas City’s proposed streetcar expansion over the first 10 years of the new tax. The editorial board is so enamored of the streetcar project — the closest thing to “mass transit” that we would likely ever have — that it was willing to sell out to promoters of the most regressive type of tax there is.

…All of this makes me wonder how Diuguid voted in the endorsement meeting. And I wonder how he felt when he saw the other hands go up in favor of Amendment 7.

I hope he put up a fight.

Freedom Inc.

Last year, I fought arm in arm with Freedom against Jackson County’s proposed half-cent sales tax for “translational medical research.” We, along with other organized opponents, were able to help usher the proposal to an unprecedented voter thrashing — 86 percent “no” to 14 percent “yes.”

As that campaign was developing, I feared that the business community, which came up with that awful proposal, would be able to “buy” Freedom’s support by offering the east-side organization $100,000 or more to campaign for the measure.

But Freedom leaders, to their credit, listened to their constituents and took the principled position that a new sales tax was the wrong way to try to make Kansas City a medical research center. The organization came out strongly against the proposal, and it was a turning point in the campaign.

This time, I’m sorry to say, Freedom Inc. sold out to the Heavy Constructors, commonly called “the heavies.” They’re called that for more than the obvious contraction of their name. They bring a lot of political pressure to bear in any number of places, including the Missouri General Assembly, which voted to put Amendment 7 on the ballot.

I don’t know how much Freedom will be paid to campaign for Amendment 7, but I would guess at least $50,000.

Like The Star, Freedom came out with a lame rationale for its decision. Campaign literature to be distributed this week says:

“Better roads and bridges will create jobs and spur our economy…For the first time, minimum minority workforce requirements of 12.7 percent (and 6.9 percent female) on all highway construction contracts will be monitored and enforced by the Missouri Department of Transportation.”

Well, whoop-de-do…Seems to me that if those requirements haven’t been monitored and enforced all along, MoDOT hasn’t been doing its job, anyway. And that doesn’t do much for the credibility of the department, which would be getting about $6 billion in new revenue from the new sales tax.

And if the General Assembly had done the right thing and put a fuel-tax increase on the ballot, instead of a general sales tax, MoDOT should likewise pledge to monitor and enforce minority- and women-owned businesses’ share of transportation contracts.

A week from Tuesday, we Jackson County residents need to show The Star and Freedom Inc. how out of touch they are with their readers and their constituents.

I believe we — and voters statewide — are going to do just that.

no mo sales tax

 

 

 

 

I never thought I would find myself on the same side of an issue as Rex Sinquefield.

The multi-millionaire (maybe billionaire) from the St. Louis area is about as conservative and libertarian as a person can get.

His overall goal is to see state taxes restructured by dumping the state income tax and replacing it with a greatly expanded sales tax.

In other words, he would like to shift the tax burden from the wealthy to middle- and lower-income residents. His philosophy? Let those who are eating cake pay more for their cake, while my buddies and I — who make truckloads of money off our investments — get a nice break.

But on Amendment 7, Sinquefield opposes a new three-quarter-cent sales tax to raise more than $6 million over the next 10 years to finance an array of transportation projects.

It being his tax or choice, I’m not sure why he opposes it, but I suspect it’s because if Amendment 7 passed, voters would be less likely to approve the even-higher sales taxes that he envisions.

Kind of like Brad Bradshaw’s reasoning last year when he poured a couple of hundred thousand dollars of his own money into the successful effort to defeat Jackson County’s proposed translational medical research tax. The lawyer/doctor from Springfield favors a statewide sales tax for medical research, and if the county’s tax had passed, it would have made passage of a statewide tax extremely difficult.

rexs

Rex to the rescue

Sinquefield is president of the Show-Me Institute, an organization that says it is interested in “advancing liberty with responsibility.” The organization’s chairman is none other than Crosby Kemper III, executive director of the Kansas City Public Library system. (Might be the best damn library director the system has ever had.)

An article published today on the Show-Me Institute’s website took issue with some Amendment 7 proponents’ assertion that Missouri’s roads and bridges desperately need repair.

The writer, a man by the name of Joseph Miller, cited two foundation reports that ranked Missouri’s highway system as seventh and eighth best, respectively, in the nation.

Miller went on to say:

“MoDOT does have a funding problem, but there is time to select the right funding solution. There is no imminent crisis which would force us to accept an unfair, and economically unsound, transportation tax.”

You got it, Rex, this tax would be eminently unfair. So, let’s team up and beat the crap out of it on Aug. 5.

Then, I’ll take a good, long shower and go back to calling you the turd in the punch bowl.

Alliances can develop very quickly in politics.

Such is the case with me and Tom and Debra Shrout, St. Louis residents who head a campaign committee that is working against Amendment 7 on the Aug. 5 ballot. Until last Sunday, I didn’t who they were or what they were doing. But now we’re working closely, at a distance of 250 miles, to defeat Amendment 7.

Amendment 7 is the turd that the Missouri General Assembly and the “concrete cartel,” as Tom Shrout calls it, pushed onto the ballot in an effort to shift a significant part of transportation funding from dedicated revenue streams to a statewide general sales tax.

Before I introduce Tom and Debra, I want to tell you a little more about Amendment 30.

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Section 30 of the Missouri Constitution states clearly that transportation projects are to be paid for with gas taxes, sales taxes on vehicle purchases, and vehicle license fees.

The idea — entirely logical — is for vehicle-related revenue streams to pay for transportation projects.

But the proponents of Amendment 7 want to flip logic onto its head. They want to change the constitution to impose a general 3/4 cent sales tax that all Missouri residents would pay, regardless of how much they use the roads. The proponents would increase the most regressive of all taxes — the one that hits hardest those least able to afford it.

And guess what? The truckers and trucking companies, which put the most wear and tear on state roads and highways, would get a pass.

That’s what I mean about trying to shift the burden…As was the case with Jackson County’s 2013 proposed sales-tax increase for medical research, the proponents of Amendment 7 want everyone else to buy the paint for their pretty picture.

We can’t let them get away with it!

The state Constitution offers a clear avenue for raising new transportation revenue: raising the state’s gas tax.

That tax has stood at 17 cents a gallon – sixth lowest in the nation as of last year — since 1996, or almost 20 years. If the Missouri General Assembly and the “concrete cartel” (essentially, the heavy constructors, the engineering companies and the materials suppliers) want to raise more money for transportation needs, they should come back to us with a proposal to raise the gas tax.

That’s the appropriate way to go. That’s the fair way to go.

**

CIMG3152Back to Tom and Debra. Their committee is called Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions. (In terms of creativity and clarity, that doesn’t hold a candle to my 2013 Committee to Stop a Bad Cure. Fortunately, victory or defeat probably won’t come down to the committee name.)

They have strong backgrounds in transit, particularly Tom, who in 2010 retired after more than 20 years as executive director of Citizens for Modern Transit, a nonprofit organization based in St. Louis.  Now, Tom and Debra own and operate a consulting company called Avvantt Partners, which focuses on organizing community support for improved public transit. One of their clients has been Jackson County, for which they worked on a transit education program.

CIMG3153Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions will be a low-budget operation. But it will get out its message. The Shrouts are planning on having at least one direct-mail piece to frequent voters in Kansas City and St. Louis, and they’re exploring the possibility of yard signs.

In addition, I helped make arrangements for the committee’s purchase of a killer billboard. For strategic reasons, I’m not going to divulge the location at this time, but I can tell you it gets about 90,000 impressions a week, and it’s going to get us a lot of votes.

Tom and Debra are also active on social media — a beast that is foreign to this “dead-tree-media” fellow.

**

Here’s a link to the web site of Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions(I hope you will consider making a contribution.)

To learn more about Tom and Debra, go to http://www.avvantt.com/

In the event we get yard signs, send me an e-mail at jim.fitzpatrick06@gmail. com and let me know if you’d like one.

Finally, let me leave you with this thought. In the medical-research campaign, I saw how logic and passion can overcome big money. We’ve got those two elements again, and I wouldn’t trade them for the millions of dollars that the concrete cartel is spending to try to bamboozle Missourians to vote for Amendment 7.

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