Chastain to get his vote, on city terms

A Jackson County judge ruled Friday that Clay Chastain can put his proposed sales tax increases for light rail to voters, but the city gets to write the ballot language.

Also, the city would not have to build rail if the taxes pass, according to a previous Missouri Supreme Court ruling.

The biggest problem for the city could be confusion on the November ballot, which could also include higher taxes for a city extension of the downtown streetcar line.

Judge Sandra Midkiff’s ruling comes after the state supreme court ruled in February that Chastain’s initiative petition was not unconstitutional and sent it back to her.

The city had argued it was unconstitutional because the taxes would not raise enough for the project, and Midkiff previously ruled for the city.

But the state supreme court found it was not unconstitutional because the wording did not require the city to actually spend the money.

“Although the preamble and proposed ballot title represent that the new taxes would be used to ‘help fund’ four specific transportation projects, the ordinance itself does not mandate that the city spend any money, make any plans to or do anything at all other than to impose two new sales taxes,” the state supreme court ruling states.

On Friday, Midkiff noted that in rejecting Chastain’s argument to use his ballot wording with the title, “KCMO INITIATIVE TO BUILD A NEW REGIONAL PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM.”

Chastain’s proposal was for a 22-mile light rail line from Waldo to a lot at KCI, a 19-mile commuter rail line from south Kansas City to Union Station and an 8.5-mile streetcar line from the zoo to Union Station, funded by ¼ and 1/8 percent sales taxes.

The city expects in August to put its proposal to voters to create a transportation district for the 8-mile streetcar extension. It would be from Crown Center to UMKC, with short branches going off east from Main at Independence Avenue and Linwood Boulevard. It would also create a MAX bus line on Prospect.

Voters will be those who live within the district, roughly bounded by State Line to Interstate 435, the Missouri River to 51st Street.

If the district creation passes in August, voters in that area will decide in November whether to approve a 1 cent sales tax for the area and higher property tax assessments for property owners within about a third of a mile of the streetcar lines.

No taxes would be imposed until federal officials agree to pay about half of the $515 project.

But the city must have its funding source in place and spend millions on engineering and planning to apply for the federal money.

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