• Here a tax, there a tax – and it adds up

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  • Let’s play one of my favorite games. Maybe you play it, too. It’s called, that guy must be a genius because he’s saying what I’ve been saying for years but no one seems to listen.
    Today’s winner is Jackson County Legislator Greg Grounds, R-Blue Springs, who spoke during an update Monday by Fred Dreiling, a county lobbyist in Jefferson City.
    A proposal for a statewide one-cent sales tax for transportation – mainly to widen and rebuild Interstate 70 across the state – is coming along, Dreiling said.
    What about the one-cent sales tax plan for school building improvements, asked Legislator James Tindall, D-Kansas City? The thinking, at least in the Senate, seems to be that I-70 is more pressing, Dreiling said.
    Wait a minute, said Grounds. Jackson County is itself considering a one-cent tax for commuter rail service and related public transit developments – a plan on hold at the moment. (All of these taxes, of course, would require voter approval.)
    “There must be some critical mass,” Grounds said, “at which taxpayers are going to say, ‘We’re not going to do it anymore.’”
    Grounds said when he was mayor of Blue Springs, a sales tax could be sold to the voters on the grounds that an estimated 40 percent of sales taxes are paid by people from outside the city. Independence has for years used the same argument and the same statistic.
    But at the statewide level, Grounds said, that argument loses much of its punch. At some point, he suggested, maybe a different idea is needed.
    However, there’s more. State Sen. Will Kraus is sponsoring a bill to cut the state income tax as an answer to similar tax cuts in Kansas. The stated goal is to keep businesses in Missouri. Still, that means a lot of money coming out of the state budget.
    “So how do we make up for that? That’s the big question,” Dreiling said.
    The offset, under the Kraus bill, is phasing in a higher sales tax. Dreiling – also a winner in my “that guy’s a genius” game – pointed out something that gets short shrift at the Capitol and various city halls.
    “As you know, the sales tax is a regressive tax,” he said.
    There is an economic argument for taxing consumption, but the regressive-tax argument is straightforward: Sales taxes hit the poor and middle class harder because they spend a higher share of their incomes on life’s necessities. The state can take some steps, such as not taxing most groceries, to make that fairer, but guess what? Local sales taxes still apply.
    What is the sales tax rate, and where does it all go?
    Those rates vary from city to city – and sometimes within a city, such as Independence, with special taxing districts – but Grounds’ home city of Blue Springs is pretty good example. The rate is 7.975 percent, and that pie is cut into 12 pieces:
    Page 2 of 2 - • The state gets 3 percent as a general sales tax, plus two other long-standing taxes – 0.125 percent for conservation and 0.1 percent for soil conservation – that voters periodically reapprove. There’s also a penny for Proposition C, which is money for schools.
    • Then comes the county: 0.5 percent for general purposes, plus 0.25 percent for anti-drug efforts, which voters have reapproved several times. And seven years ago, the voters decided to upgrade Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums, work done on time, on budget and to the delight of teams and fans. We got last year’s All-Star Game out of the deal. But the bond payments go well into the next decade, so add 0.375 percent, or three-eighths of a penny, to pay off that debt.
    • Voters decided a couple of years ago that we’d like a nicer zoo. Add an eighth of a penny, or 0.125 percent.
    • Closer to home, the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District gets 0.5 percent. Then the city gets 1 percent – plus 0.5 percent for transportation and another 0.5 percent for public safety.
    County officials made a strenuous case to renew the anti-drug tax a few years ago. Same for the stadiums. We’re getting what promises to be a great penguin exhibit at the zoo this fall, and there’s more to come. This state has long seen a need for sound and well-funded conservation efforts. There’s a great case for more and better equipped cops. Then throw in a penny for worn-out I-70. Throw in another for commuter rail. All are compelling.
    But it adds up.
    Transition on Noland
    Just a couple more weeks for Independence Honda. The franchise at 3151 S. Noland Road is moving to the Village West area near Kansas Speedway in western Wyandotte County.
    It’s an interesting transition for the “Miracle Mile,” which is strong on traditional American-nameplate autos. The move leaves Independence and Blue Springs without dealers in two of the modern “Big Five” in U.S. sales. Toyota, No. 1 in worldwide sales, is No. 3 in the United States, just behind Ford, with about 15 percent of the market, and Honda is No. 5. Now you’ll have to go at least as far as Lee’s Summit to find a new Camry or Civic.
    Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s business editor. Follow him on Twitter @FoxEJC.

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