KANSAS CITY, MO. – A commission designed to have clout for Kansas City's future has just been installed to learn if there are better ways to pay for Kansas City services and operations. The "Citizens' Commission on Revenue" was a campaign pledge of Mayor Sly James.
Sixteen members of the blue-ribbon panel have six months to come up with a plan. Among them is Brent Never, on faculty of the Bloch School of Management at UMKC. He talked with KCUR's Dan Verbeck on the first day of his appointment.
Verbeck This Commission is a resurrection of something that was come up with back in the 1950's by then-Mayor Ilus Davis. Whatever the city's revenue problems were back in the 1950's have to be vastly different than they are today. At your basic feel of it, Brent, what is the Commission supposed to do?
Brent Never We are, in one sense, providing new ideas that might not be able to be voiced by people on the Council, the Mayor and the like without any pressure, I guess, from whatever political forces there might be.
Verbeck Being new to town you may have an advantage, and some might consider it a bit of a disadvantage, in that you're not beholden to anybody. No sacred cows for you. You could step on toes, whereas some others might not be able to do that?
Brent Never You know, it could happen. It could. I have to say that I approach it as having fallen in love with Kansas City. And as somebody who's been asked to be there, I'm happy to give what I can and the room is full of very competent folks who do know what can and can't be done. And I think my role is to really come in with maybe some other ideas. I'm also one of those folks that, if those ideas don't work, I understand. So my role I think is to bring in some new thoughts.
Verbeck Every city, every state, in fact the country, the national government is looking to find some kind of revenue stream that's the magic answer to their problems. How bad off financially is Kansas City currently? In your estimation?
Brent Never I think Kansas City is in a unique position. With the Earnings' Tax, this is a fairly stable set of revenues that a lot of cities don't have. Cities are in trouble right now because property values have been going down, year on year, for several years now. And whereas property taxes have always been counted on to be the stable amount of revenue in any budget system, obviously it isn't right now.
So it means we have to look at other things that aren't as exciting and people don't like, like sales taxes or earnings' taxes.
And this is just me as an academic. I think that we have to talk about widening the base of revenue. If we're just counting on property taxes from a certain amount of properties and then also an earnings' tax that might be phased out, I know the city has talked about phasing it out, whether it is voted out or not. These are all revenue streams that have to be plugged in. Or plugged up, I should say.
Verbeck Dr. Brent Never, Thank you for coming in.
Brent Never Thank you.
Verbeck Brent Never is on the faculty, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Bloch School of Management. And he is now a member of the Citizens' Commission on Municipal Revenue.