The committee room in Jefferson City was packed with political, public safety, business and community leaders from Kansas City and St. Louis on Thursday.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee was accepting testimony on a proposal sponsored by state Senator Kurt Schaefer to outlaw the earnings taxes that both cities.
The ban is supported by St. Louis libertarian activist Rex Sinquefield, who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations to Schaefer and other lawmakers who are backing the plan.
Mayor Sly James began his remarks with a statement of resentment about having to plead for a revenue source that provides 40 percent of the city's general fund dollars.
“Generally we start negotiations with a conversation, not with a gun held to our head. There has been no conversation in this case leading up to this point. The gun was raised, it has been pointed and that's where it remains, the mayor told the ?Senators.
James told the committee that with 72 percent of the city budget consumed by public safety, those vital services would be hard hit if the major source of revenue is phased out. It could result in the layoffs of over 800 police officers and over 400 firefighters, he said.
Replacing the revenue with another source, James added, would be painful and unpopular.
“It's a bleak future in Kansas City without the earnings tax because any attempt to replace it would require that we increase our tax revenues in massive ways. We would have to double our sales tax. We would have to triple our property tax,” he told them.
James said he worries that the city could never persuade voters to approve tax increases of that magnitude, especially since they weigh so heavily on the poor, unemployed and senior citizens.
“I simply ask you to leve us alone,” James said. “You certrainly ask the federal government to leave you alone.”
Asked for a comment by Missouri Public Radio, bill sponsor Schaefer said he is concerned that the earnings tax might be found unconstitutional and that the state could be on the hook for millions of dollars because state law allowed the tax.