What Will KC Do About Its Budget?
The Kansas City Star has a long story about an even longer budget report that deserves at least a short blog post. I have carefully read the article, and the study itself will be my work-related reading assignment over the holiday break.
In the interest of focusing on the key points, I am only going to discuss the consultants’ seven recommendations that were highlighted in the Star. If you are in such a hurry that you can only read one more sentence, then I will tell you this: Four of the recommendations are very good, one is worth consideration, one might be a good idea, and one is absolutely horrible. But on to the details, with each suggestion followed by my comments. The report suggests that Kansas City should:
- Consider a new trash fee, consistent with what is charged in many cities in the region and nation. Kansas City residents often resist this idea, saying the earnings tax, in place since the 1960s, is supposed to cover those costs.
Definitely worth considering. Moving toward direct fees for direct services is a move in the right direction. However, this should not be done as just an excuse to create a new fee. Rather, it should be at least partly offset by spending cuts elsewhere, as the revenue moves toward the new trash fee.
- Consider seeking state legislation for mandatory suburban withholding of that earnings tax to make sure people working or living in Kansas City pay the taxes they owe.
This is an absolutely terrible suggestion. Businesses that operate outside of Kansas City should not be forced to collect taxes for the city. If anything, this could serve as an incentive (albeit a minor one) for companies outside of Kansas City to hire fewer KC residents. Just a stupid idea.
- Consolidate the Police Department with the rest of city government.
Both Kansas City and St. Louis would like to gain control of their police departments from the state. I am friends with some St. Louis city cops, and I have never talked to one who liked this possibility. Control by the state board means that the police department answers to one board and the governor, not to 28 aldermen and 11 citywide elected officials. However, in Kansas City, with its city manager form of government, local control might work better.
- Hold the line on city hiring, limit wage increases, and contain health-care costs to a greater degree than the city has done in the past.
Now we are on to the good ideas, so I don’t have much to add. Obviously, this suggestion is imperative for any city.
- Pursue regional funding for civic and cultural assets, as is done in such cities as Denver, St. Louis and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Now, here is an idea that might raise taxes for some people but which I still support. The zoo-museum district in St. Louis has been an excellent system for some time, and should be expanded for other counties like St. Charles. I think it should definitely be implemented in Kansas City.
- Prioritize basic, quality-of-life services over “nice-to-have” amenities.
This is a pretty standard, yet important and worthwhile, recommendation.
And, finally, the best part of the whole report:
- Hold the line on new taxpayer incentives for development and tax abatement to limit negative effects on city revenues. Also, re-evaluate the number of sports and entertainment arenas such as Kemper Arena that are subsidized by the city, “particularly given ongoing maintenance needs.”