In November, Jackson County voters will be asked to renew a 0.25 percent sales tax used to fund the Community Backed Anti-Crime Tax (COMBAT). The tax has been renewed by voters five times since it was first instituted in 1989. What are taxpayers getting for their money? That’s a difficult question to answer.
Unsurprisingly, everyone on the receiving end of the tax wants to see it renewed. According to a piece in The Kansas City Star,
Renewing the tax is essential for preventing and reducing violence, County Executive Frank White said.
“Anything that we can do to help our citizens in terms of prevention, and being proactive in what we do, is really what this (tax) is about,” he said.
County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker echoed the same sentiment. Yet homicide is up in Kansas City, (home to more than 68 percent of Jackson County’s population) and markedly so since COMBAT launched its anti-violence campaign in 2013. Kansas City’s homicide rate in 2015 was so high as to have made the FBI’s list of cities driving the national numbers. The 2016 homicide rate will be even higher. Exactly how is the tax helping to prevent violence?
As for drug prevention, one of the programs funded by the tax is the DARE program. Yet research has shown for years that the DARE program either does not work or makes matters worse. Exactly how is the Jackson County program making a positive difference on drug use?
Recall too that taxes in Jackson County are not low. The left-leaning Brookings Institution found in 2013 that Jackson County was well above average when it came to property taxes paid and property taxes paid relative to home value. So why the additional tax? As former Star columnist Yael Abouhalkah pointed out in 2009, "Almost no other county in the nation has a special drug tax—and yet communities across the country close drug houses, hire police officers to chase drug dealers and fund drug courts." In fact, these communities appear to be doing a better job of it than Jackson County does.
Good public policy requires more than good intentions; it requires good outcomes. Crime and drug prevention efforts in Jackson County seem to be failing badly—and not because of a lack of funding.
Taxpayers deserve an honest accounting of how the County is spending their money and making a difference for the better.