The fair and unfair that comes with Kansas City’s earnings tax

The Kansas City earnings tax is both fair and unfair. 

I personally have felt the pinch, and yet, I’ve also valued the benefits. That’s a quandary some residents within the city limits will feel when they go to the polls on April 5 to decide whether or not to renew the 1 percent earnings tax. 

Do they pass a tax that many of them pay, unless they work outside the city limits? Or do they ax a tax that generates more than $230 million annually, 40 percent of the city’s general fund revenue, which pays for police, fire protection, street maintenance, ambulances and various other basic services?

Despite the bite out of my wallet, and the fact that I don’t get to vote on it, I hope the tax passes again. A lot is at stake for the whole metro area. 

Many people who like to brag that they’re not part of the big, bad old KC wind up with benefits from the city functioning well. Kansas City is the vital hub of the whole metro area. 
Kansas City’s borders run well up into Platte County. 

You can hit the city limits only slightly southeast of Platte City. Parkville, Platte Woods, Northmoor, Riverside, Lake Waukomis, Weatherby Lake and Houston Lake like to act like independents. They’re only kind of, sort of independent. 

Ditto for folks in little pockets of unincorporated Platte County, or even the north for that matter.

Did you watch the Royals win the World Series last year? 

What if Kansas City didn’t have enough well-trained police to maintain safety and order inside and outside the ballpark? You think it takes awhile to get out of the parking lot after the game, try it with no police directing traffic. 

City officials have said huge cuts in all basic services would be necessary if the tax wasn’t in place. They’re not kidding. 

The unfair side of the tax does concern me. 

Folks who live in the city already pay property taxes and various other fees. Unless they commute to a place like Parkville for their job, the earnings tax is an add on. 

Also, those who work in the city but live outside of it don’t vote on the tax.

However, there’s the unfair side of people whose jobs depend on the city functioning well, but they wouldn’t be supporting city services as strongly if not for the tax. That includes a huge chunk of Johnson Countians.

And actually, property values and quality of life, the whole metro area benefits from a well-functioning Kansas City. You actually could say the same for big chunks of Missouri and Kansas beyond the metro counties. 

There is the issue of tax breaks the city grants some developments, but I doubt if all were rescinded tomorrow that they’d cover the loss of the earnings tax. And development competition between cities, counties and states is fierce. 

The problems and benefits of this issue are complex, too. 

The final bottom line for me is the city’s need for revenue to maintain current services that benefit the entire metro area. Because my day job is based near the Country Club Plaza, and takes me elsewhere around the city, I recognize needs. The city is not a stationary statue you can redo at will. 

Rather, it’s a living, breathing, pulsing with life, extremely complex organism that serves as a hub for millions of people and their problems and joys. 

A benefit from the discussion is that it would be nice in the long run if an earnings tax wasn’t necessary. Perhaps a revitalized urban core coupled with the ongoing growth in Platte County and elsewhere on the metro edges will solve the problem someday. 

For now, the ship needs to stay afloat and at full sail. Voters have agreed in past elections. 
Here’s hoping they repeat the common sense choice.

Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at