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Kansas City Voters Enthusiastically Renew The 1% Earnings Tax To Pay For Roads, Police And Fire

Kansas City police and firefighters work the scene of a collision Friday, March 26, 2021 on Manchester Trafficway near Highway 40.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City police and firefighters work the scene of a collision Friday, March 26, 2021 on Manchester Trafficway near Highway 40. Revenue from the earnings tax helps pay for public safety.

The 1% income tax, which applies to anyone who works in Kansas City, Missouri, is the city's largest single source of revenue.

For many, the outcome was never really in doubt — Kansas City voters on Tuesday once again decisively endorsed renewal of the 1% earnings tax.

With all precincts reporting in unofficial returns, Kansas City residents approved renewal with 77% in support to 23% opposed.

The tax is paid by people who live and/or work in the city. It’s Kansas City’s single largest revenue source and helps fund basic services like police, fire protection, trash collection and road maintenance.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday night, Mayor Quinton Lucas thanked the voters and said he was ecstatic with the election result.

"Kansas Citians again have voted, once again, to support our city, to support their leaders and to support a strong future for Kansas City and the region," Lucas said.

In the fiscal year beginning May 1, the tax is expected to generate about $270 million, which is about 45 percent of the city’s general fund.

In 2010, Missouri began requiring Kansas City voters to decide every five years whether to continue the tax. More than three-fourths of local voters approved it in 2011 and 2016.

Nearly half the revenue generated from the earnings tax is paid by non-residents. It’s the closest thing to a regional tax that Kansas City has, in which people who live in Kansas City’s suburbs and use the city’s amenities and roads also provide financial support.

In past elections, tax opponents have mounted organized campaigns against it, but that was not the case in 2021.

If voters had rejected the tax, it would have phased out over the next 10 years. Critics of the tax have argued that other big cities manage to fund basic services without a local income tax, and that the earnings tax leads to a bloated bureaucracy in Kansas City. But they haven’t offered a viable alternative, and supporters of the tax warned that the loss of $270 million, even over time, would force devastating cuts to city services.

Finance officials would prefer that voters only have to weigh in every 10 or 20 years, but don’t see much likelihood that the Missouri Legislature will ease up on the five-year requirement.

Lynn Horsley is a freelance writer in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley.
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