Renew the earnings tax or be less safe, officials warn

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said the earnings tax is vital to law enforcement.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said the earnings tax is vital to law enforcement.

Kansas City public safety leaders on Monday warned of widespread service cutbacks unless the earnings tax is renewed.

The 1-percent tax first approved 50 years ago is up for city renewal on April 5.

It raises more than $230 million a year, about 40 percent of the general fund that goes for police, firefighters, trash collection, animal control and other basic services.

If it does not pass, it would be phased out over 10 years. Without other taxes to replace it, more than 600 police and 426 firefighter positions would have to be eliminated, officials or former officials said at a press conference at the police Central Patrol Station.

Pat McInerney, former president of the police board, said, “There is a threat to the progress and safety of Kansas City.”

If the tax goes away, many police programs like drug abuse education and gang resistance education will go as well, he said.

So will police officers stationed in neighborhoods or schools and more.

Police and fire responses will be 911-driven and will be slower, they said, and people will die because of it.

People who live outside the city but work in it pay half the tax raised and it does not apply to pensioners, the advocates noted.

Conservative opponents, led by mega rich St. Louis libertarian Rex Sinquefield, contend it slows business growth.

He funded a statewide vote in 2010 that forced Kansas City and St. Louis, the only Missouri cities that use the tax, to hold renewal votes every five years.

Five years ago, 78 percent of Kansas City voters approved extending it.

City officials want even more approval votes next month. They say that would send a message to Republicans in Jefferson City who have proposed an end to such taxes.

If the city earnings tax approval vote fails next month, McInerney said, the tax is essentially gone forever. That is because the Missouri General Assembly would have to approve restarting it, he said.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said the tax is vital to law enforcement, including programs like the Kansas City No Violence Alliance.

It and other police and prosecutor programs are trying to reach into the community more to stop crimes or solve them, she said, “but it’s not free.”

“I need staffing levels to meet the needs of Kansas City,” she said, not the needs of politicians in Jefferson City.

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