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Archive for August, 2014

OK, so I was off by a point or two.

Missouri Amendment 7 — the proposed three-quarter-cent sales tax increase for transportation — lost Tuesday by a 59 to 41 percent vote margin.

The final, unofficial count was 590,963 to 407,532.

I predicted a 60-40 defeat.

What went wrong?

The problem was Kansas City. Here, in our own beloved town, “yes” voters prevailed by a count of 18,926 to 18,715 — slightly more than 200 votes.

Maybe it was because publicity about the expanded streetcar proposal (which also failed badly) overshadowed Amendment 7. Maybe it was because The Kansas City Star foolishly endorsed Amendment 7 because a majority of the editorial board was so keen on the streetcar expansion. Maybe it was because Freedom Inc. foolishly endorsed it because the Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City — part of the “concrete cartel” — leaned heavily on Freedom officials and gave them a lot of “walkin’ around money.”

Maybe Kansas City voters aren’t as smart as I thought they were.

P1040008

Whoosh! And down it went.

To give you a contrast, voters in St. Louis County and St. Louis City defeated Amendment 7 by a margins of 68-32 percent and 66-33 percent respectively, and in Jackson County outside Kansas City the margin was 59 to 41 percent, mirroring the overall state ratio.

Despite the Kansas City result, I am thrilled about the outcome. Thanks very much to all of you who rallied to the cause of Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions, the St. Louis-based campaign committee that led the charge. Your response — gobbling up yard signs, buttonholing your relatives and friends and, in some cases, contributing money — had a big impact. 

We were outspent about $4 million to $30,000, and yet we carved the concrete cartel — the road builders, materials suppliers and engineering companies — into little chunklets.

If they really want more money for statewide transportation projects, it’s time for them to come to the negotiating table and talk about a modest increase in the state’s gas tax, which, at 17 cents a gallon, is sixth lowest in the country.

A nine-cent gas-tax increase would raise about $300 million a year, or $3 billion over 10 years. That’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of projects. That’s a lot of jobs.

Wake up, concrete cartel members, the gig is up; a sales-tax increase is not going to happen.

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Happy election day, everyone…

If you haven’t voted absentee, don’t be a luddy duddy, don’t be a mooncalf, don’t be a jabbernowl — get out and vote!

(Love those phrases, from W.C. Fields in “The Bank Dick.” By the way, “jabbernowl” is a variation of “jobbernowl,” which essentially means “blockhead.”)

So, yes, it is election day, and that means one thing:

It’s time to blow away some of the stupidest, most hair-brained proposals that the Missouri General Assembly has ever come up with.

The worst of the lot are Amendment 1, the so-called “right to farm” amendment, and Amendment 7, the proposed 3/4 cent sales tax for transportation projects.

Amendment 1 is a proposal that only the ignorant and naive can love. I’m talking about people who haven’t done any research on Amendment 1 and who immediately put their hands over their ears and hum when better-informed people try to tell them what a duplicitous proposition it is.

As a Kansas City Star editorial said on Sunday: “That right (to farm) isn’t under attack in the state. In reality, the amendment is a bid to protect factory farms and concentrated agricultural feeding operations from regulations that are needed to protect consumers, the environment and livestock.

“A ‘no’ vote would ensure that Missouri retains crucial powers to protect consumers and communities from big-farming tactics that, for instance, can release noxious animal waste.”

“Noxious” is the right word for Amendment 1. Let’s hope that enough thoughtful voters in Kansas City, Jackson County, St. Louis and St. Louis County turn out to beat this beast.

**

Then, there’s No. 7, which, of course, I’ve been working against the last three weeks or so. The committee I’ve been working with, Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions, is headed by a St. Louis couple, Tom and Debra Shrout, who own a company that helps communities develop improved transportation programs.

With a campaign “war chest” of about $30,000, we, the opponents, have poked big holes in the proponents’ pitch that Missouri needs “safe roads and new jobs.”

As I have said many times, this is all about shifting the transportation tax burden away from user fees — the gas tax, sales taxes on vehicle purchases and vehicle registration fees — to the general public. As the state Constitution provides, vehicle-related revenue streams are the fairest and most appropriate sources of funds for transportation projects, The sales tax, on the other hand, is the most regressive tax there is, hitting hardest those least able to pay.

As President Obama would say, “It’s not only not right, it ain’t right.”

If the Missouri Department of Transportation can convince the Missouri General Assembly that it needs significantly more money for highways, roads and bridges, the legislature should bring forth a tax proposal that makes sense: a modest increase in Missouri’s 17-cent-per-gallon fuel tax, which is the sixth lowest in the nation.

**

I have no inkling how Amendment 1 will fare, but if I were betting on Amendment 7, I would put my golf clubs and my hat collection up against a can of corn that voters are going to hand the proponents a big, big defeat.

It won’t match the 86-14 percent margin that we Jackson County voters rang up against the “translational medical research tax” last year, but I think it will be at least 60-40.

People are sick of high sales taxes and new sales-tax proposals that would benefit special interests — in this case, the heavy construction companies, the materials suppliers, the engineering companies and the truckers (who would get a free pass).

As the medical-research tax election showed, Jackson Countians aren’t going to be sucked in any more. I don’t think residents in the rest of the state are going to be sucked in, either.

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For the legions of you (ahem) who are students of journalism, a mystery presented itself today on the Op-Ed page of The Kansas City Star.

Shelly

Shelly

Barb Shelly, one of six members of The Star’s editorial board, which decides what positions the paper takes on issues, had a commentary urging readers to vote “no” on Missouri Amendment 7 — the proposed 3/4 cent sales tax increase for transportation projects.

Shelly called Amendment 7 “terrible public policy” and closed her column with this:

“But whatever you decide, just know this: The Missouri legislature (by putting Amendment 7 on the ballot) tossed its integrity under the wheels of a big rig this session, and support for Amendment 7 allows (legislature) members to avoid any consequences.”

That’s pretty strong and persuasive language. And yet…And yet, a couple of weeks ago The Star came out editorially in favor of Amendment 7.

Paul

Paul

A good friend who reads the paper religiously texted me this morning, saying: “Why did Barbara Shelly come out against when The Star was for?”

Indeed, that is mysterious.

Compounding the mystery is this: A few weeks ago, another editorial board member, Lewis Diuguid wrote a highly critical piece about Amendment 7. In that article, Diuguid noted that Missouri “has one of the lowest fuel taxes in the country,” and added: “The sales tax is regressive and hurts low-income residents the most.”

parrish

Parrish

Besides Shelly and Diuguid, the other board members are Yael Abouhalkah, Steve Paul, publisher Mi-Ai Parrish and editorial page editor Miriam Pepper.

…I have to deviate just a moment here because the Amendment 7 mystery unfolded against the backdrop of a major personnel change on the editorial page. Today, Friday, Aug. 1, is Pepper’s last day at the paper. She has taken a buyout, and yesterday she got a newsroom send-off, complete with speeches and cake, I trust. Pepper’s name should go off the masthead tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, none other than Barb Shelly will be the interim editorial page editor.

Diuguid

Diuguid

In an effort to get to the bottom of the Amendment 7 mystery, I first put in a call to Pepper and left a message. (Didn’t hear back.) I then called Steve Paul, the newest editorial-board member, and he said, “Have you talked to Barb?” That’s all he had to say.

So, I called Shelly, and, very graciously, she explained the reasoning behind the endorsement. She did not go into how the individual board members may have voted, if indeed there was a vote. (It might well have been done by consensus.)

As I suspected (and wrote in an earlier post), Kansas City Question A — the proposed streetcar expansion — played a major role in the board’s decision on Amendment 7.

“We do, as a board, strongly support the streetcar (expansion) and mass transit,” Shelly said. “It is time for Kansas City to get a mass transit system.”

Yael

Abouhalkah

The board members discussed Amendment 7 — and Question A — several times, she said, and ultimately concluded that, collectively, they would swallow their significant reservations about Amendment 7 and endorse it in hopes that the endorsement would boost Question A with voters.

“That was the overriding factor,” Shelly said.

The tie-in with Question A is that state officials have agreed to divert $144 million of the Amendment 7, sales-tax money to help pay for the streetcar system and development of a MAX bus route on Prospect. The payment is conditioned, of course, on voter approval of both Amendment 7 and a new sales tax for the expanded streetcar line.

It was clear to me even before talking to Shelly that the editorial board members wrestled mightily with their decision. And Shelly confirmed that.

“We had spirited discussions, and we were rather conflicted about it,” she said.

pepper

Pepper

As I said, Shelly didn’t say how the individual board members voted or even if a vote was taken. She did say that Parrish, the publisher, did not exert a dominant voice, as she could have, in the debate.

 

 

 

So, here’s my guess on how the vote — or at least the tilt — went.

“Yes” to endorse Amendment 7: Pepper, Abouhalkah, Paul.

“No”: Shelly, Diuguid.

**

Here’s my prediction: On Tuesday, Missouri voters will overwhelmingly side with Shelly and Diuguid.

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