Kudos to Kansas City Star editorial board member Dave Helling for his recent column on taxes in Kansas City, and legislative efforts to cap sales taxes at 14 percent. Helling goes into detail about city tax rates and their impact on those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Then he concludes,
Taxes should be simple — easy to collect and understand. They should be as low as possible. And they should be fair, based in part on ability to pay.
Kansas City’s tax structure meets the “simple” test. But local taxes are not low, and they are not fair.
This argument is not new to readers of this blog or to anyone who lives in the city and has to pay the taxes. But conceding that local taxes aren’t low is a noteworthy turnabout for Helling, who wrote just two years ago on March 1 2016,
Kansas City’s tax burden is relatively low, and it’s pretty balanced. It fails miserably on the fairness index — relying far too much on flat sales and income tax rates that hurt the poor — but that shortfall is difficult for most voters to see.
My colleague responded at the time that taxes are not relatively low in Kansas City. In fact, we’re a high-tax city when one considers not just the sales tax—which is itself high—but property taxes and our one percent earnings tax. And Helling is correct that taxes are not only high, but brutally regressive, resting on the backs of the working poor in Kansas City. Kansas City goes the extra regressive step of even taxing food. To add insult to injury, some tax rates in poor communities are higher than in wealthier neighborhoods.
Kansas City has serious problems with how it collects and spends revenue. These things are worthy of public debate, and Helling’s piece is an important contribution to that discussion. City leaders—or those who would be city leaders—need to come forward and join the discussion, not just ask (as Mayor Sly James did last week) to be left alone.