Vote “no” on murky Jackson County tax hike, Question 2

In August, supporters of establishing a Community Children’s Services Fund asked the Jackson County Legislature to place a quarter-cent sales tax increase on the November ballot.

The last-minute request was slashed in half, to an eighth-cent tax increase. That raised immediate questions in my mind about how rigorously the tax had been vetted, not just by supporters but by the Legislature. Slashing something in half and throwing it on the ballot did not engender confidence that  this had been correctly handled.

It was just one of the murky developments that have surrounded Question 2, as it appears on  the county’s ballot.

I’m reluctantly urging a “no” vote on a tax that has not been explained clearly enough to the public and — more importantly — can’t justify spending up to to $15 million a year on its priorities.

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce purposely did not take a position on the tax, which is troubling. The chamber normally would be expected to be a big proponent of this kind of child-centered effort.

Another odd thing: The ballot language says the fund “will be transparently administered in a manner independent of county government…,” as opposed to — what — totally hidden?

Sure, I understand  the need to kind of distance the tax from the clutches of the county courthouse. Except, look at who appoints the panel overseeing the money: the county executive. That’s a lot of control for a politician to have.

The campaign signs for the new tax are extremely misleading: “Renew With 2” they read. That implies taxpayers are simply extending an existing tax. Yes, I understand “renew” has other meanings to tax backers, but that’s not what the signs are saying.

Finally, backing social services programs for youth “19 or less” sounds good, though technically those 18 and older could be considered adults by most people. (Here is the link to a website promoting the tax for more information.)

Generally, funds for children’s services have been dwindling as other priorities have arisen in city and county governments. Public safety at Kansas City Hall, for example, takes precedence. And in Jackson County, officials have been dealing with very tight budgets over the last decade.

I understand why people who back solid public services for children would want the tax. But it’s not a high priority to approve an eighth-cent sales tax increase for this particular fund.