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Light rail's newest question: how to avoid double taxation?

So a Kansas City-only starter line election is getting back on track, as some local officials believe Missouri-side leaders can't put together a regional transit plan in time for the November ballot.

But if, as Kansas City Councilman Russ Johnson suggests, the best solution is for Kansas City to go ahead with its own sales tax election for a short starter line, followed by a sales tax election a year or two later in Jackson, Clay and Platte counties for a regional system, it all raises a big question: How can Kansas City residents avoid being taxed twice?

One thought has been that Kansas City could enact a small sales tax, then subtract out that level from a larger regional tax. For instance, if Kansas City approved a quarter cent and the regional system went for a half cent, then the regional tax would be a half-cent for county portions not in KC, and a quarter cent for county portions within KC, so everyone pays the same amount.

However, Kansas City assistant city attorney Bill Geary, among others, has briefed local officials that such a split in a county tax is not possible.

So there's another possible solution, Johnson has suggested: After the counties pass a half-cent sales tax for a regional system, the Kansas City Council would repeal the city-only light rail tax, so only one light rail tax remained in effect.

Of course, this would require voters to trust the council to do that, or official language in a ballot measure promising that. As Kansas City Councilwoman Jan Marcason noted: "The voters would be pretty skeptical unless you spelled that out in the ballot language."

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