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Missouri Lawmakers Trying To Limit Local Sales Tax, Kansas City Fights Back

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

A few conservative legislators in Jefferson City want to limit how much cities and counties can raise with locally imposed sales taxes.

Under a bill (HB 2168), which is moving slowly through the General Assembly, local governments could not impose a sales tax over 12 percent.

“It’s shortsighted and it’s non-productive," says Kansas City Mayor Sly James. "There is no good that comes out of weakening us.”

Twenty-five percent of the city's budget comes from various sales taxes. Just last Tuesday, voters renewed the city's capital improvements sales tax with 79 percent of the vote. “The State of Missouri does not get better by denying the biggest city, the most progressive city, the city with the most momentum in the state the ability to continue that momentum,” says James.

To drive home his point that capping sales tax could injure the city, James held his news conference in Fire Station #10 near 9th and The Paseo. Since 2001, the city has collected a one-fourth cent sales tax for the fire department.

“We’ve built more than a dozen modern stations, and all of our facilities have been updated," says Fire Chief Gary Reese. "The KCFD has leveraged over $20 million in external grants to improve everything from safety and training to personal protective equipment, medical upgrades and updated dispatching systems.”

In some areas when all sales taxes in Kansas City are added together, the rate is above 12 percent, according to the fiscal note attached to the legislation. Sales taxes are collected for special taxing districts, like for the streetcar and in community improvement districts (CID) around the city.

While existing taxes wouldn't be cut, there is a fear among city officials that they could not be renewed.

City Councilwoman Jolie Justus, who spent eight years in the General Assembly, says she was just in Jefferson City lobbying against this measure. “I am feeling cautiously optimistic that we made a lot of headway, and I think there are a lot of folks who are on our side now.”

The bill was sponsored by Republican Rep. Phil Christofanelli from St. Charles County. It was passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee but is not been scheduled for a floor vote, according to online records.

“Sales tax rates in Missouri are spiraling out of control," Christofanelli said in a statement. "These taxes fall most heavily on the working poor and make our state less competitive." 

Sam Zeffis KCUR's Metro Reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter: @samzeff

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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