Streetcar expansion elections, pro and con

KC has several elections this summer that could help determine the future of streetcar expansion.
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KC has several elections this summer that could help determine the future of streetcar expansion.
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KC Streetcar

KC voters face three streetcar proposals this summer

By Lynn Horsley

lhorsley@kcstar.com

July 18, 2017 04:57 PM

Kansas City has three streetcar ballot questions that voters are considering this summer, which could help determine whether the downtown streetcar system expands or not.

An unusual mail-in election process is already underway, with ballots due by Aug. 1 to the Jackson County Circuit Court.

Qualified voters are deciding whether to create a special transportation development district to extend the streetcar route 3.75 miles from Union Station on Main Street to the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Eligible voters have already applied for ballots and live from the Missouri River to 53rd Street and from State Line Road to Campbell Street.

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Supporters say this is the best way to get streetcars through the heart of Kansas City. “They see that it’s wildly successful downtown. They see what’s happening, and they want a piece of it,” said Diane Burnette, executive director of MainCor, an agency that advocates for the Main Street corridor businesses and neighborhoods. The pro-streetcar campaign is at www.connectkc.org.

If voters approve this new district, two more elections would be required to elect a taxing district board and to approve sales and property taxes for the streetcar system.

But opponents say this mail-in election suppresses the vote, is profoundly undemocratic and could lead to burdensome taxes.

They believe streetcars are hugely expensive, a poor alternative to buses, and should be voted on by the whole city. They have a separate ballot measure, Question 1, on Kansas City’s Aug. 8 ballot.

That measure would prohibit city government participation in streetcar expansion without a citywide vote. If it passes, it could put up a roadblock to streetcar expansion.

“It’s not smart, it’s not modern, it’s not affordable, it’s not regional and it’s not transit,” said Kansas City attorney Sherry DeJanes, spokespwoman for Smart KC, which opposes streetcar expansion. Its website is www.besmartkc.com.

Each of these ballot measures was prompted by grass-roots petitioning, not city government.

Complicating matters is that transit activist Clay Chastain, who lives in Virginia, has yet another Kansas City petition initiative, Question 2, on the Aug. 8 ballot. It seeks a citywide  3/8 -cent sales tax increase for 25 years to help pay for an extensive streetcar and electric bus system. Chastain has no website and no campaign.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley