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Appeals Court Throws Out Mission’s Controversial ‘Driveway Tax’

A controversial tax enacted five years ago by Mission, Kansas, has been ruled illegal by the Kansas Court of Appeals.

The so-called transportation utility fee, derided by critics as a “driveway tax,” pays for street and infrastructure maintenance and is imposed on all improved real estate in the city.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court on Thursday ruled that the fee is in fact an excise tax that Kansas law, with certain exceptions, prohibits cities from imposing.

The ruling is a blow to the Kansas City suburb, which enacted the tax because it lacked the general fund revenues it needed to maintain its streets.

Mission officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The tax, which is based on how much traffic each property generates, ranges from $72 annually for single-family homes to thousands of dollars for some businesses. In its 2015 budget, Mission projected the tax would generate $775,000 for the city, which has a population of about 9,500.

The tax was controversial from the outset and was ruled illegal by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt in 2012. Schmidt’s ruling, however, was a nonbinding advisory opinion lacking the force of a court ruling.

The tax was challenged in court by various plaintiffs, including an association representing apartment owners. In 2013, a Johnson County judge found the tax to be legal, a decision that the appeals court on Tuesday overturned.  

“I’m thrilled with the result,” said Jim Bowers, an attorney who represented Heartland Apartment Association, one of the plaintiffs.

The tax appears to have been the first of its kind in Kansas and originally applied not just to homeowners and businesses but to churches as well. After two churches sued, the city settled by exempting churches from the tax.

The tax was so contentious that, earlier this year, the Kansas Senate rejected former Mission Mayor Laura McConwell’s appointment to the state board that regulates casino gambling. McConwell was mayor when the tax was enacted.  

Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR.

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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