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Clay Chastain Asks Judge To Put His Light-Rail Plan On The Ballot

Elle Moxley

Transit advocate Clay Chastain got his day in court Thursday, but it's still unclear if his plan to build a light-rail system will go before voters.

For three years, Chastain has been locked in a battle with city officials who say the 3/8-cent sales tax increase he's proposed isn't enough to pay for light-rail. The Missouri Supreme Court weighed in earlier this year, ruling that even if voters approved the plan, the city wouldn't have to build it.

Now the two sides are battling over potential ballot language. Chastain wants the words "light-rail" in the question so it's clear what the tax will pay for. But city officials don't want those words on the ballot because they're in no way obligated to build a light-rail system. 

At a hearing Thursday, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Sandra Midkiff asked the city's counsel if the ordinance should go on the ballot. Assistant City Attorney Sarah Baxter replied that the city was willing to put the ordinance on the ballot, but she wasn't sure why Chastain wanted a vote that wouldn't accomplish what he wanted. No other city officials attended the hearing.

"It's about democracy and the fact that 5,000 people in Kansas City, Mo., signed this petition calling for a vote on a light-rail initiative," says Chastain.

Midkiff says she'll issue a written order "as soon as possible."

City officials have already said they'll appeal the decision if Midkiff rules in Chastain's favor. But Chastain, who hasn't lived in Kansas City for a decade, says he's done fighting – though he's said that before.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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