Mayor James Talks Youth Programs, Earnings Tax And Chiefs At Annual Forum Appearance | KCUR

Mayor James Talks Youth Programs, Earnings Tax And Chiefs At Annual Forum Appearance

Jan 17, 2016

Topics ranged from youth empowerment and education to Kansas City's historic jazz district when Mayor Sly James spoke at a community forum Sunday morning.

All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church holds forum discussions with civic and community leaders every Sunday morning, but the latest was part of a nearly 20 year annual tradition of inviting Kansas City's mayors to the discussions.

In his speech to more than 50 community members, James focused on city efforts like Turn the Page KC, a program concerned with getting Kansas City's third graders up to snuff on reading proficiency. 

"The statistics were just astounding," James told the audience. "In 2011 when we started the program, 33 percent of kids were reading at third grade proficient levels and in [Kansas City Public Schools], the number was 19 percent. Now the number across the city is about 49 percent and KCPS is up to 28 percent."

James also touted the city's partnership with ArtsTech and KC NoVA as well as the upcoming Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy in the 18th and Vine District. Though he had harder words for a recently passed $18 million redevelopment plan for the historic jazz site.

"If you're going to ask for an $18 million investment, I want to know what the heck you're doing with it," James said. "And what I saw was basically, 'Come up with the money and we'll figure it out.' Not good enough."

James also spent plenty of time on the latest political kerfuffle over Kansas City's 1 percent earnings tax. Republican state Sen. Kurt Schaefer pre-filed legislation last month that would repeal the tax, which makes up about 40 percent of the city's general fund.

James and other city leaders testified before the Senate's Ways and Means Committee last week in opposition to the legislation.

"We have a lot of politics being played [in Jefferson City] right now," James said. "I think that we made our point that the Legislature is playing with fire on this issue, and that fire could burn them too."

And as for the Kansas City Chiefs, who unfortunately lost to the New England Patriots 27-20 on Saturday, James says he's simply proud of them.

"They represented this city in the way we want it represented," James said. "I want to see what happens with the draft and I'll be rooting for them every step of the way."

Cody Newill is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @CodyNewill or send him an email at cody@kcur.org.