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Posts Tagged ‘Francis Slay’

Very interesting, this E-tax situation. Not just the Kansas City situation but the combination of Kansas City and St. Louis.

Quite a contrast, actually. In both cities, voters overwhelmingly approved retention of the one-percent tax on salaries and business profits. But that’s where the similarities end.

Consider:

— In Kansas City, the opposition, led by eastern Missouri billionaire Rex Sinquefield spent about $600,000 trying to defeat the tax. In St. Louis, there was no organized opposition.

— In Kansas City, all indications are that it will be “business as usual” at City Hall and that a serious, extensive review of city taxes and finances is not likely to occur. In St. Louis, however, it appears that it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the E-tax will be eliminated before the next retention election, which would take place in five years.

So what’s the deal?

Well, it seems clear to me that, in St. Louis, Sinquefield and Mayor Francis Slay, a friend of Sinquefield, made a deal.

Here’s how the conversation that led to that gentleman’s agreement likely went…

Rex — “Uh, Francis, you know you’ve got to get rid of that E-tax; it’s killing job and business growth.”

Francis — “Yes, Rex, I realize that. But we can’t chop it off all at once, you know. How about this: If you don’t contest it on April 5, I promise you that we’ll get rid of it before it comes up for retention in five years, and we’ll come up with ways to replace the revenue.”

Rex — “You got it.”

How could such a clear-cut deal take place in one city, while, at the other end of the state the battle will be re-engaged every five years for the foreseeable future?

It’s the difference between a strong mayor form of government (St. Louis) and a council-manager form of government in Kansas City.

Slay can make that deal without having to worry about being undermined by the Board of Aldermen. In Kansas City, however, the mayor can’t promise anything, unless he’s got the signatures of six other council members, giving him a 7-6 majority, including himself.

Slay

To see the difference in the E-tax intentions of leaders in the two cities, one had only to read Slay’s comments in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Mayor-elect Sly James’ comments in The Kansas City Star.

James: “What a great victory. We now have confirmation that we’re going to have the earnings tax that we need so much.”

Slay: “What we saw here was a step, an important step toward what I believe to be a necessary and inevitable change in the way the city delivers services and the way the region is governed.”

The Post-Dispatch story went on to say that city officials already had begun talking about other ways of getting the revenue that the E-tax generates. “I don’t think there’s going to be another campaign on this earnings tax” in five years, Richard Callow, pro-earnings-tax campaign manager was quoted as saying.

That about says it all, doesn’t it? The wheels are in motion in St. Louis, and the E-tax is going away.

Now, if Kansas City leaders are paying attention, that should set off all kinds of alarms.

Two reasons:

1) The E-tax undoubtedly is hurting business and job growth in Kansas City. We’re already getting poached to death by the Kansas side, and now, with many Missouri-side suburbs growing, they, too, will pick up the cherry-picking pace.

2) After St. Louis gets rid of its E-tax, it will start competing more stoutly for businesses that are looking to relocate to Missouri. And when it lays out its package of incentives, it can say, “If you come to St. Louis, you won’t have to worry about an earnings tax, but if you go to Kansas City, you’ll be hit for one percent of your profits.”

Ouch!

Let me make this clear: I was not only for the E-tax, I was on the Save Kansas City Committee steering committee and made two presentations on behalf of the tax. At both appearances, however, I advocated for a thorough review of Kansas City finances.

And while I like the idea of forcing the “sundowners” — those who leave the city after work each day — to help pay for the amenities and facilities that bolster the urban core, I think this newfound focus on the E-tax is fostering a lot of unnecessary resentment among the sundowners.

You remember, don’t you, E-tax proponent Dan Cofran’s now-famous quote to a woman who was frustrated because she had to pay the tax even though she didn’t live in Kansas City? “Then, don’t work here,” he said.

Ouch…again.

The reply didn’t hurt the tax’s chances of passage at all, but it didn’t help relations between those of us who live in Kansas City and those who don’t. We shouldn’t allow the E-tax to drive the wedge even farther between us and them.

So, let’s see what we can do about getting rid of that E-tax, OK, Sly? OK, council members?

The last thing we want, other than that wedge being driven deeper, is the sight of St. Louis steaming by us as we cling to a tax that only about 20 percent of the largest cities in the U.S. are holding on to.

Sinquefield

Also, this looks like a case where the big dog, Sinquefield, isn’t going away. He’ll be back in five years — assuming he’s still alive — and he and his minions will dump several hundred thousand more dollars into that campaign, and he’ll make our business community shell out another $1 million or so to try to beat him.

To me, he looks an awful lot like Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters: He won’t quit until he gets what he wants.

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One of the most infuriating moments that I ever experienced took place about 25 years ago in the bar of an Italian restaurant on “The Hill” in St. Louis.

We were in town visiting our good friends, Mary and Gus Buttice (a faithful blog reader), and talking with some of their friends while waiting for a table. A fellow in his 20s — an upbeat, lippy sort — was recounting that he had been living in Kansas City for a while but was delighted to have moved back to St. Louis recently. Kansas City didn’t hold a candle to St. Louis, he said. Then, he gestured at me and said, “Ask him; he knows.”

Flustered and on foreign soil, I didn’t know what to say or whether to say anything, so I kept my mouth shut. Inside, I fumed.

That was when St. Louis still led Kansas City (according to the 1980 Census) by about 5,000 residents — 453,000 to 448,000.

The worm turned in 1990, though, when Kansas City passed St. Louis (well, took the lead by losing far fewer people than St. Louis in the 1980s), and the margin has widened considerably since.

According to Census Bureau figures released last week, Kansas City gained 18,000 residents between 2000 and 2009 for a population of nearly 460,000. St. Louis’ population, meanwhile, fell 8.3 percent, to about 319,000. Perhaps even more startling, the population in St. Louis County, where St. Louis City residents have been fleeing for decades, also fell — by 1.7 percent, to less than a million people.

The Census story caused barely a ripple in Kansas City, but from my reading of articles in The New York Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the story had people in St. Louis grabbing the left sides of their chests.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said: “This is absolutely bad news. We had thought, given many of the other positive trends, that 50 years of population losses had finally reversed direction. Instead, by the measure of Census to Census, they continue…Combined with the news from St. Louis County, I believe that this will require an urgent and thorough rethinking of how we do almost everything.

“If this doesn’t jump-start regional thinking, nothing will.”

When I told my wife Patty about the St. Louis population figures, she paused for a moment and said, “That could happen to us, if we don’t fix the schools.”

I think she’s right. Unlike St. Louis, which is hemmed in on all sides, we have a Northland, where there is plenty of elbow room for growth. I couldn’t come up with specific figures, but I feel sure that the losses have continued south of the river, due mainly to people moving to the Kansas side for better schools.

We can’t count on the Northland to offset south-of-the-river losses forever. At some point, the Northland will cap out. What will south of the river look like at that point? I almost hate to think about it.

So, the stakes are as high as the hopes in this situation with hard-charging Superintendent John Covington and the “new and improved” Kansas City school board, headed by the young, dynamic and seemingly driven Airick Leonard West.

More specifically, regardless of what happens at a majority of the schools, if Covington and the board can’t put a stop to the fights and fires at Southwest High School, many of the young families banking on better days ahead (and trying to tough it out until it gets to that point), will bail.

Southwest is the crab that will not release its grip on the image of Kansas City schools.

Frankly, I don’t care for Kansas; its residents freeload off Kansas City but don’t want to pay its earnings tax, which fuels the core, which makes this a great area.

There are things I like about St. Louis, but I would never trade it for Kansas City. I wonder if that guy I talked to in the bar that night so many years ago would make such a harsh comparison to Kansas City now? Probably not.

I’m really glad and proud to call myself a Kansas Citian. But I’m worried.

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