Patrick Ishmael
Last year I wrote about a proposal to build a new streetcar that would travel along Main Street in Kansas City. At the time, I was highly skeptical of the fiscal prudence of the plan. What has happened since then? Well, another city-subsidized transit line that serves many of the same areas that the trolley would serve has fallen behind on its loan payments due to lack of ridership. Furthermore, the businesses that the proposed train would serve do not want to get stuck with the bill for it.

A government project that will not make money and its presumed customers do not want to subsidize? Over to you, City Council.
Council members late Thursday unanimously approved three measures that establish a streetcar zone for two blocks on either side of Main Street {…}. The measures … also remove a requirement that private development within the zone provide off-street parking, a move aimed at encouraging use of the streetcar and other public transit.

The rezoning is considered a necessary step as the city races to meet a March 19 deadline to apply for as much as $25 million in federal grants to help pay for the estimated $100 million project.

In short, the city’s rushing the project through to get federal dollars, with the balance of the bill coming from new taxes. It is worth noting that the residents in the trolley district who would be voting on the proposed property and sales tax increases for the project will not necessarily be the ones paying the tax, because the business owners do not necessarily live where their businesses are located. That has some entrepreneurs pretty irked. Says one property owner, “My biggest concern is taxation without representation.”
“The people who vote on it live in the apartments and lofts,” Nicholson said. “The people who pay don’t have a say. I’ve always been a supporter of streetcars, but it’s a community asset, and having business owners pay for it is problematic.”

In any case, when the people who presumably stand to benefit from the trolley do not want to pay for it, should anybody be paying for it? And if the tax is implemented as planned, how will local businesses respond? It seems the city is out of sync with even its own projects and objectives; after all, why would the city plan to build a new hotel downtown — and then turn around and raise downtown hotel taxes to the second-highest in the country to fund the trolley? Wouldn’t these initiatives be working against each other, and even if they did not, isn’t one bad idea enough for the city to take on at one time?

The trolley did not make sense in September, and it still does not make sense.

About the Author

Patrick Ishmael
Director of Government Accountability

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