I should've written more about the Olathe sales tax increase election when it was occurring. I didn't pay enough attention to speak about the topic knowledgeably at the time. My default position on all tax increases is simply, nope. Uh uh. And honestly, I thought the people of Olathe were too stupid to fall for a sales tax ploy. It's probably the most conservative city in Johnson County. In short, I wasn't worried about that dumb sales tax passing.
I was wrong. I should've paid closer attention. And I should never doubt the impact of the low-information voter.
I did write briefly about this election, which you'll find here.
People far better informed than me, however, are now saying that Olathe officials violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act. I have no doubt they did. Conservative Olathe voters should consider throwing so-called conservative members of Olathe's governing body, including Mayor Mike Copeland, council members Larry Campbell and Ron Ryckman, Jr., out of ALL of their political offices.
Copeland serves as the Deputy Secretary of Labor. Voters can't toss him out, but those on the inside might want to mention to our conservative Gov. Brownback, that there's a liberal draped in conservative clothing serving at Brownback's behest in the state bureaucracy. Further, voters should carefully question whether to send Ryckman and Campbell back to the state legislature, where they both serve as representatives, in 2014. (Please note, I'm not saying voters should definitely throw them out. I'm saying they should definitely think long and hard about keeping them.)
I learned from the Facebook page of Benjamin Hodge, a conservative activist and regular rabble rouser, that the Olathe City Council met in a special meeting to add "upgrade and improve" to the ballot question. The changes were never mentioned in the printed packet, and the changes to the ballot language were not "noticed." I'm not going to bore you with Kansas Open Meetings Act mumbo-jumbo. The bottom line is the ballot language posted on the city's own website was wrong.
But those two simple words will now give the city council vast authority to use those sales tax dollars for things other than "streets." Critics are correct in alleging the changed ballot language will now allow the city to use the funds for things like bike paths and other things that have little to do with road maintenance.
Hodge's Facebook post said he could not find a physical record that the council actually ever voted on corrected language. And he noted, city officials thought the added words important enough that the language was added to the question. Voters should be asking why the change was necessary. Olathe's spokesperson said attorneys deemed the change necessary, but still, the question remains: Why? What will the language change now allow the city to fund through a virtual slush fund?
Set aside the problems with the flawed process. It's repulsive for conservatives who supposedly support things like making elections more transparent and more partisan by moving them to November would approve of a mail-in ballot, for a tax increase, during a random time of the year. Sounds like greasing an election to ensure the least informed voters have the greatest say possible. The hypocrisy is really something.
Most significantly, this sales tax increase for stuff a city's ad valorem taxes should be covering is going to spread like a viral outbreak of H1N1. Other cities will look to the Olathe model of tax and spend and emulate it. Of that, I'm certain.
I will repeat one more time why conservative Olathe officials have lost their minds on this issue.
1. Road maintenance is one of a city's two primary obligations. (The other, in my mind, is public safety). If the city isn't funding roads with its existing funding pools, which are MASSIVE, they're doing it wrong.
2. Olathe is one of the fastest growing communities. New growth means extra cash (and expenditures) in the form of development fees. Those fees should be set at a rate in which development pays for itself. Meanwhile, Olathe offers a wealth of retail. That means the city is already collecting tons in sales tax receipts. I feel for tiny towns that only boast a school and a post office. Those communities are probably feeling the pinch.
3. In addition to an already steady and healthy sales tax stream, Olathe's property values are stagnant at worst, and at best, property values in parts of Olathe are increasing. Even without a property tax rate increase, that means city coffers are growing. These aren't Olathe's sole revenue sources, but they're a good start, and these are the wells from which the city should have already been funding street maintenance.
4. The argument that sales taxes are largely paid by outsiders is dishonest. Yes, people from outside of Olathe contribute to sales taxes through purchases in Olathe, but people who live in Olathe are contributing a larger share. Conservatives should NEVER make the argument that a tax somehow doesn't matter or doesn't count just because someone else is paying it, and shame on any conservative who does so.
5. The Olathe sales tax hurts the conservative cause, in part, because it allows liberals to honestly say that Republicans are nothing but Democrat-Lite. In the case of Olathe Republicans, the liberals are correct. The other way it hurts conservatives is this: Conservatives only have so much money to contribute to causes and candidates. When a conservative PAC like Hodge's Kansans for State and Local Reform is spending money on Olathe sales tax questions, that's money they won't have to spend on conservative issues and candidates in other elections. (Say what you want about that political PAC or its leadership, but at least they're out there championing conservative causes and candidates. I, for one, appreciate most of their efforts.)