KC attorney seeks to block earnings tax measure

Saturday, August 14, 2010 | 4:04 p.m. CDT; updated 6:46 p.m. CDT, Saturday, August 14, 2010

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City's city attorney has filed a lawsuit seeking to block a November ballot measure that would allow residents of Kansas City and St. Louis decide whether to keep their cities' earning tax.

The measure, dubbed Proposition A, was certified by the Missouri secretary of state's office after the group pushing it submitted more than 200,000 signatures on a petition seeking the vote.

St. Louis and Kansas City are the only two cities in the state that have an earnings tax, which is a 1 percent levy on the earnings of people who live or work inside the city.

The lawsuit, filed in Jefferson City on Friday by City Attorney Galen Beaufort, claims that the measure is unconstitutional.

"It's obviously a very important issue for our citizens," Beaufort told The Kansas City Star. "We thought we had to do our best to pursue all possible legal arguments."

A group called Let Voters Decide submitted the ballot measure after the petition drive. The suit was filed on behalf of acting Kansas City city manager Troy Schulte and Pat Dujakovich, president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO, both as private citizens.

Secretary of State Robin Carnahan is listed as the defendant.

Proposition A wouldn't repeal the tax, but it would give residents in the two cities a chance to vote every five years starting in 2011 on whether to continue the tax. If voters approved a repeal of the tax, it would be phased out over 10 years, at one-tenth of a percent each year.

The measure also bans any other cities from enacting an earnings tax.

The lawsuit argues that the required elections would cost both St. Louis and Kansas City about $500,000 and neither city would be compensated for the cost.

According to the suit, Proposition A "becomes a de facto appropriation by voters statewide on Kansas City funds for the purpose of this (local) election."

Let Voters Decide spokesman Marc Ellinger said the measure wouldn't require either city to pay for a local election if they just wanted to skip the vote and let the tax phase out automatically.

Kansas City officials say the earnings tax provides more than $200 million annually in city revenue, and City Council members don't know how that would be replaced.

"This lawsuit is an absurd act of desperation by special interests that don't want voters to have a say on local earnings tax," said Let Voters Decide spokesman Scott Charton. "It has no merit."

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