WHAT OTHERS SAY: Voters want better ideas before funding transportation projects

Thursday, August 7, 2014 | 1:13 p.m. CDT

Voters’ decisive rejection Tuesday of a special taxing district to finance additional miles of streetcar lines doesn’t lessen Kansas City’s need for a genuine mass transit system.

Nearly every other major city is more advanced in this regard, and employers, convention planners, real estate developers and young people looking for a place to settle have noticed.

The task for Mayor Sly James and city leaders now is to figure out how to make the funding for a streetcar extension palatable to more voters.

The mechanism on Tuesday’s ballot was problematic. It was the first step in what was supposed to be a two-step process. Although the vote was merely to create a taxing district, opponents effectively whipped up fears and resentment about a plan that ultimately might require some city residents to pay more sales and property taxes than people in other neighborhoods.

In the end, Tuesday’s vote wasn’t even close — the taxing district failed by a 20-point margin.

City leaders are going to have to do better at selling voters on the economic development and lifestyle benefits of a streetcar line, or else find a more broad-based method of funding. Either way, they must act with urgency.

The other transportation issue to fail Tuesday was the Missouri General Assembly’s bid to raise the state sales tax by three-fourths of a cent to finance road and bridge projects.

Though we supported this constitutional amendment, in large part because it would have provided a welcome funding boost for Kansas City’s streetcar project, the proposal had substantial drawbacks. Tops among them was a stipulation that Missouri could not raise its gasoline tax or place tolls on its highways for the 10-year length of the tax.

At 17 cents per gallon, Missouri’s gasoline tax is the nation’s sixth lowest, and its tax on diesel fuel, also 17 cents a gallon, is the nation’s fourth lowest. Drivers, especially out-of-state truckers, can and should pay more for the roads they use.

Missouri’s roads do need work, but a burdensome sales tax isn’t the way to make that happen. Lawmakers and Gov. Jay Nixon must now get together and devise a more reasonable funding plan.

While the vote on a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the “right to farm” was narrowly passed Tuesday, other results left the Missouri constitution more cluttered, as voters passed two unnecessary amendments. One declares that “the right to keep and bear arms is an unalienable right.” Another duplicates a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling dealing with electronic communications.

The vague amendments are likely to cost taxpayers in legal bills. It should concern Missourians that legislators use the state constitution as a grab bag for various causes, some, like the right to farm amendment, prompted by corporately funded out-of-state groups.

On the plus side, four GOP House members in Missouri who faced a barrage of negative advertising bankrolled by groups financed by St. Louis multimillionaire Rex Sinquefield all won. Sinquefield’s outlandish political interference is bad for the state and bad for democracy. Voters are wise to reject it.

The closely watched GOP primaries in Kansas yielded no surprises. U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts defeated his tea party opponent, Milton Wolf. Gov. Sam Brownback advanced, although his unknown opponent, Jennifer Winn, appeared to have pulled more than 35 percent of the vote without actually campaigning. Secretary of State Kris Kobach easily defeated Scott Morgan.

All three face qualified Democratic opposition in November. We look forward to a substantive debate on crucial issues facing the state and nation.

Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.

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