Against the backdrop of a city-wide campaign to keep Kansas City’s 1 percent earnings tax, Mayor Sly James delivered his fifth State of the City address Tuesday at the Uptown Theater.
He highlighted Kansas City’s accomplishments in recent years, ending with a clip from the Royals' championship parade downtown last fall.
“Like our World Series Champion Royals, we’ve got momentum, and we’re keeping the line moving,” James said in his speech. “We’re able to do so in part because of leaders who made tough decisions a generation or more ago.”
After the speech, James told reporters he wasn’t worried about voters renewing the earnings tax April 5.
“I believe it will pass, and the main reason I believe it will pass is I have a great deal of faith in the people of Kansas City,” James said.
But James added that he remains concerned that St. Louis businessman Rex Sinquefield is bankrolling a campaign to repeal the tax here and in St. Louis.
“The problem this year is we have a billionaire in the St. Louis area who wants to spend money to impose his own tax philosophy on cities that he doesn’t live in,” James said.
Since 2010, Missouri law has required Kansas City and St. Louis to go to voters every five years if they want to keep the earnings tax. James said a vote every 10 or 15 years would be sufficient.
“There is no way to pay for the city services that would be cut without the earnings tax,” he said. “There’s no tax that we could raise sufficiently – no series of taxes that we could raise sufficiently – for citizens of Kansas City, Missouri, only to replace $230 million.”
Right now, commuters pay the earnings tax, too. If voters would reject it, it would trigger what James called “massive cuts in personnel” over the next ten years.
Many of those cuts would come from public safety at a time when James and other city leaders are grappling with how best to handle violent crime.
“We know other issues – domestic violence and child abuse – were at the heart of the 2015 uptick in homicides,” James said.
He thanked Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forte, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and community activist Rosilyn Temple of the anti-violence coalition Mothers in Charge in his address.
James opposes Missouri religious freedom amendment
James also took aim at a proposed constitutional amendment currently working its way through the Missouri Legislature that many within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community see as discriminatory. Supporters say it would protect religious freedom.
“The same rationale was used to stop interracial marriage,” said James of Senate Joint Resolution 39.
The Kansas City Sports Council has said the Big 12 could leave Kansas City if Missouri lawmakers continue to pursue the bill.
James pointed out similar legislation has cropped up now in many states with Republican-led legislatures.
“I hope they come to their senses and recognize Georgia saw the folly of it. That Indiana saw what happened. There’s just no reason for this,” he said.
Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.