LS interchanges make sales-tax projects list

rpulley@lsjournal.comJuly 11, 2014 

A much-desired interchange improvement for Lee’s Summit is officially one of the projects to be funded by a statewide sales tax, if voters pass it Aug. 5.

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission on July 9 voted on the final list of projects for the tax, which included the U.S. 50 and Missouri 291 South interchange, also known as the Jefferson Street Bridge.

Local officials had lobbied for the Missouri Department of Transportation to add the project to its plan, which covers all modes of transportation from highways to streetcars, river ports, rail and aviation. Some of those are contingent on additional local funding, such as streetcars in Kansas City or Lee’s Summit’s U.S. 50/M-291 South interchange.

Lee’s Summit area improvements earmarked for the tax also include the Interstate 470 and U.S. 50 interchange, purchase of the former Rock Island Railroad corridor, and Lee’s Summit Municipal Airport. Lee’s Summit voters have already approved a bond issue for $8 million for that project.

A question is whether the city will ask residents to vote for the three-quarter cent sales tax which would run 10 years, raising about $5.4 billion.

Mayor Randy Rhoads said the city council hasn’t taken a position to endorse the tax, although it did want to make sure if the tax passed the interchange was on the project list.

He said while the council hasn’t specifically discussed the proposed Amendment 7, one of the concerns for Missouri cities is that a local sales tax is one of the main sources or revenue. He thinks there are reservations on part of council members and staff.

Lee’s Summit might need to voters to approve another sales tax of its own for some purpose, Rhoads said, and if the total tax on a purchase gets too high, voters might reject a city tax.

“Elected people anecdotally think there’s a limit, but no one knows what that limit is,” Rhoads said. “The concern is we may be getting close.”

He said the city does understand that a difficulty for MoDOT is that much of its revenue for construction comes from gasoline taxes receipts, which are declining because of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

He said an individual council member might bring the issue up in roundtable or he might put it on the agenda item for discussion at the July 24 meeting.

The Missouri Municipal League is opposed to using a state sales tax for funding MoDOT projects.

The Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce’s executive board will be deciding if it endorses the tax at its July 16 meeting, said Mark Dickey, chamber vice president. Its Governmental Relations Committee has recommended it endorse the tax.

Dickey said the chamber members understand why the city might be reluctant to push for the tax.

State officials have looked at alternatives, such as toll roads or raising the gas tax, but those options when studied by a private research firm had less public support than raising the sales tax, Dickey said.

Another issue opponents raise is that a sales tax is “regressive” – that it has more impact on people with low incomes. Dickey said that may be true, but it should be noted that those people also need the goods such as fruit and vegetables hauled by trucks on highways. And the tax receipts will be used for other projects such as light rail, sidewalks and trails that will benefit non-motorists.

A complete list of projects to be financed by the tax is available at www.modot.org.

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