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.
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.
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.