KC Voters Complicate Streetcar Expansion, Approve Minimum Wage Hike

Aug 9, 2017

By a margin of fewer than 900 votes, residents of Kansas City, Missouri, on Tuesday acted to prohibit city officials from moving forward with any streetcar extension without first gaining citywide voter approval. 

Question 1 failed south of the river by a small margin, but passed in Platte and Clay counties. The ballot issue keeps the city from planning for any construction or buying any land related to the streetcar. It also sticks the city with penalty of $1,000 a day for noncompliance. 

Turnout for the special election was around 11 percent in Jackson County, but much lower in the northland.

The result came as a surprise to some city officials and streetcar expansion advocates. 

David Johnson is with the group behind current expansion efforts that would take the streetcar south to UMKC. That process can still move forward.

But Johnson says without city support later in the process, the future of the streetcar is uncertain.

“This is really hard to digest," Johnson says. "But I will say that it will be completely up to the council to determine how to move forward.”

The city council will now determine whether the measure is legal and whether to enact it.  

But Kansas City attorney Sherry DeJanes, who is one of the petitioners who brought the measure to a vote, advises officials against trying to repeal it. 

“I think it would be to the city’s advantage for that not to happen to allow this to play out as the city has said it wants to play out,” DeJanes says.  

Voters on Tuesday also decided to raise the city’s minimum wage to $10 an hour later this month, and eventually to $15. But the fate of that decision is uncertain because it conflicts with Missouri state law, which prohibits cities from raising the minimum wage above the state level of $7.70 per hour. 

City officials said Tuesday they’re weighing their next legal steps.

And transit activist Clay Chastain’s latest vision to construct a massive light rail and streetcar extension project was rejected by nearly 56 percent of Kansas City voters. 

Chastain, who resides in Virginia and has submitted 9 petition initiatives to the city over the last 20 years, says he won’t be pushing any more transit plans in Kansas City.

“My era as an activist in Kansas City is gone with the wind it looks like, and I need to accept that, respect the voters and go on to another moral cause,” Chastain says.

Tuesday's special election was the first since Missouri's new voter ID law took effect. Election officials across the metro area said for the most part, voting went smoothly. 

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Connect with her in Twitter @larodrig