People line up to request city support for state law changes

Among legislative priorities city residents would like to see, a permanent half-cent sales tax for public transit.

Kansas City residents and agencies provided the city with a list of legislative priorities they’d like to see: a permanent transit tax; sales tax for 911 cell phone calls; penalties for attackers of bus drivers; expanded state Medicaid; a stop to the shredding of old cars; and more funding for early childhood education. 

Many things requested have failed at the legislature in the past, some repeatedly.

Take the city’s endangered half-cent sales tax for public transit that the city started in 1971.

The state legislature allowed St. Louis and Kansas City to use such a tax but they had to be renewed by the state every two years. Both taxes started before the Hancock Amendment and never went to a public vote.

In 1993, St. Louis got state legislation passed that made its tax permanent. Not so Kansas City.

In 2005, it was only able to get a 10-year expiration extension, up until 2015.

Mark Huffer, general manager of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, asked the city to push to make the critical tax permanent.

“It’s not a tax hike but it was pre-Hancock,” he said, and that gives some conservative legislators problems. But St. Louis got it made permanent, he noted, and why shouldn’t Kansas City.

In another request, he asked the city to push to make assault of transit workers a felony.

Transit workers from Kansas City, St. Louis and statewide have tried to get such legislation for three years. It would provide them with the same protection given to police, fire and emergency service workers.

Huffer said more bus drivers are being assaulted in the city and nationwide and a message needs to be sent that it is a felony.

“You may have 40 people on a bus and if you incapacitate a driver you might put 40 people in danger,” he said.

Fire Chief Paul Berardi asked for the city to push to extend the sales tax for 911 calls to include cell phones, not just land lines. Most 911 calls now come from cell phones and Missouri is the only state that does not extend the tax to them, he said.

A bill that would have done that failed last year.

He and others also argued for the city to push the state to expand Medicaid as associated with the Affordable Care Act, which the Legislature has refused to do even though the federal government would pay for it.

Kansas City police asked support for a change in state law to fix a state law passed last year. The law last year allowed secondary metal recyclers to buy and shred cars more than 10 years old without the seller having a title. Police say that led to a rash of thefts and shredding in Kansas City and St. Louis.

They ask the state for a law like one recently passed in Kansas City that requires the recyclers to hold the old cars for 72 hours before shredding.

State Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, a Kansas City Democrat whose 25th district includes Waldo, Brookside and Ward Parkway, asked city support on more state funding for early childhood education programs, specifically Mayor Sly James’ “Turn the Page KC” reading program for children.

He cited results from a study that showed poor children fared far better in life if exposed to pre-school programs at ages three or four.

James said he was obviously interested – “We have a program that has demonstrated results but we are constantly struggling to fund it.”

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