If the prospect of paying more sales tax in Wichita thrills no one, voting “no” on Nov. 4 gets the community nowhere. The Eagle editorial board recommends a “yes” vote.
By approving a 1-cent sales tax increase in Wichita for the next five years, voters can assure a future for Wichita with enough water, more businesses and jobs, and better streets and bus service.
The needs are clear and well-supported by the community, which had two years to offer input and guide the decision making by Mayor Carl Brewer, the City Council and City Manager Robert Layton via surveys and public meetings.
Of the nearly $400 million anticipated to be raised by the citywide sales tax, $250 million would be used to expand the Aquifer Storage and Recovery project at the Equus Beds. The aquifer already is vital to the water supply of Wichita and the region but can play that role far into the century with the right infrastructure, technology and capacity.
The rest would go to stabilize and expand the Wichita Transit bus system with night service and more routes ($39.8 million), do more street repairs ($27.8 million), and boost the local economy via infrastructure and workforce training and business incentives ($80 million).
Though the part of the tax targeting business is under the most fire, it’s probably the most important. Wichita has 20,000 fewer jobs than it had in 2008, with Boeing’s departure a historic blow to the city’s employment and identity. The plan – and, yes, there is a detailed one – tries an aggressive new approach to diversifying the local economy, supporting emerging industries, and responding to workforce and infrastructure needs. It’s no “slush fund,” either, thanks to oversight and transparency so extensive as to risk overkill.
Yes, a higher sales tax is hard to swallow because it’s regressive taxation, falling hardest upon those with the least income. That’s especially true in Kansas, which continues its shameful status as one of only a handful of states still charging sales tax on food (and second only to Mississippi in how much).
But the city’s reasons to impose its first citywide sales tax are basic and sound, which is why the proposal’s diverse backers include social service providers, unions, the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and Young Professionals of Wichita.
Investing in the aquifer project seems the best thing to do to anticipate and meet Wichita’s water needs. Improving the city’s bare-bones transit system is the right thing to do, in part because many residents with disabilities and the working poor rely on the buses. Fixing more streets is fundamental. And Wichita urgently needs to step up its game on job creation, or be prepared to watch more businesses and workers be poached with the help of flush tax-funded incentives out of Oklahoma, Texas and other states.
What will come of a majority “no” vote? Much higher water rates, more potholes, even fewer buses, and worse prospects for a robust 21st-century economy in Kansas’ largest city.
All in favor of improving Wichita should vote “yes.”
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman