Coalition forms to protest proposed city sales tax in Wichita

07/23/2014 5:31 PM

08/06/2014 1:20 PM

Before it is even placed on the November ballot, a proposed 1-cent sales tax initiative is facing opposition from a new group.

The Coalition for a Better Wichita launched Wednesday as about 30 people gathered at Handy Mailing, 3839 W. Dora.

While printing machines hummed in the background and churned out mailers in support of Richard Ranzau for the Sedgwick County Commission, Jennifer Baysinger, a local business owner, spoke to the group.

“It’s the hope of the coalition that the City Council members will press pause and not move forward at this time, ” she said.

The proposed sales tax would generate an estimated $400 million over five years. Current estimates from the city manager’s office for different projects include:

• $250 million for additional water supply
• $80 million for job development
• $39.8 million for public transit
• $27.8 million for street maintenance and repair

The council is scheduled to vote Aug. 5 on whether to include the sales tax measure on the November ballot. The deadline to place measures on the ballot is Aug. 18.

Council members on Tuesday held a workshop to hear more detailed information on how the money could be spent.

Baysinger said the issue needs more citizen input to the council before it is put to a vote and that it concerns her that the city didn’t seem to have concrete plans on all of the projects that would be funded by the tax.

The project that caused her the most concern was job development, she said.

“Backroom deals with favored companies is not the way to grow Wichita’s economy. Business owners need two things from government: We need a favorable regulatory climate, and we need a favorable tax climate,” Baysinger said.

Those who support creating a fund for job development have said it is needed to help Wichita compete with other communities that use incentives to lure companies.

The coalition is in its infancy, Baysinger said. So far, backers have set up a website, www.ABetterWichita.com, and have done some fundraising within the group.

“We are a varied group. We come from many different perspectives on this issue, but in the end, we all agree that the sales tax is not in the best interest of the taxpayers,” Baysinger said.

“It’s tough competing in business, though, and it’s certainly tough competing with the Internet. I’m troubled that our City Council members would consider raising the sales tax by making it more difficult for us to draw in business.”

Sean Hatfield, a local attorney, also expressed concern about how the sales tax would affect poor families.

“This proposed sales tax will hit the poor disproportionately,” Hatfield said. “For many of Wichita’s hard-working families, the vast majority of their purchases that they make regularly will be affected by this sales tax.

“We don’t need more spending from city hall. We need smarter solutions. The money isn’t the problem. It’s the management.”

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