Patrick Ishmael

For the second time in five years, Kansas City has voted to retain its earnings tax by a substantial majority. While disappointing, this result was unsurprising; after all, city residents renewed the tax by a 78% to 22% vote in 2011, and this year's margin was comparable to that one. Under Missouri law, Kansas City will reconsider the renewal question again in 2021 and every five years thereafter. Given the tax's destructiveness, that's an altogether appropriate and necessary interval.

Obviously, Tuesday's results were mostly bad news for the reform side, but one largely overlooked detail was that the number of votes in favor of the tax dropped significantly since the last vote. In 2011, nearly 57,000 Kansas Citians cast ballots in favor of the earnings tax; in 2016, that figure dropped by nearly a third to just over 39,000 votes in favor, with turnout down significantly overall. That wasn't a statewide trend, either; turnout in St. Louis, which also voted on the earnings tax on Tuesday, actually rose by several thousand votes compared to 2011. 

Regardless, the tax and spending reform discussion for Missouri's largest city will of course continue. That's because the earnings tax hurts Kansas City and the people in it. And thanks to the earnings tax debate, Kansas City is finally being forced to take a hard look at its TIF policies and how it delivers public services to all Kansas Citians—especially those on the East Side.

I hope that city leaders will move away from the tax sooner rather than later; it's the right thing to do for the city, and the region.

About the Author

Patrick Ishmael

Patrick Ishmael is the director of government accountability at the Show-Me Institute.