Midterm Election

#EricEndorses - Vote Yes on Amendments 1 and 4, Proposition D, and Library Question

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Here is the final installment of my recommendations for the Midterm ballot issues. I started writing out more detailed explainers on the root issues of each of them but I think we’ll explore those topics after the election. Right now I just want to give you a quick rundown of why I recommend a yes vote for each.

Vote Yes for Amendment 1 - Clean Missouri

I can’t say I’m thrilled about every part of this amendment. In fact it covers so much ground that I’m surprised it falls within the single subject rule — a requirement that citizen initiated ballot measures be only of one subject. Doesn’t matter, it’s on the ballot and you should still vote yes.

The measure will do a lot of things to lobbying and campaign finance, some of which I think might be unnecessary or overly complicated — we still are sorting out the campaign finance amendment voters approved in 2016. But the most important provision involves state legislative redistricting.

Every ten years, the process of redrawing the boundaries of each state house district and state senate district has historically been in the hands of the state legislature — the Missouri General Assembly. This has made it very easy for the majority party to exploit the process to further tip the scale in their favor — a process commonly known as partisan gerrymandering. Amendment 1 not only gives a lot of that power to a non-partisan demographer, but it places criteria on drawing those boundaries to ensure elections are more competitive.

In 2016, just 21 of the 163 races for seats in the Missouri House of Representatives were within 20 points. The other 142 seats would be considered landslide victories. The Senate looked largely the same. The entire state would benefit from toning down this hyper partisan district map. Vote yes on Amendment 1 to make redistricting a fairer process.

Vote Yes on Amendment 4 — Bingo!

I cannot even believe bingo, a game favored by retirees and non-profit fundraisers, is regulated by the state constitution. If this was an amendment to completely remove bingo regulations from the state constitution I’d really be rooting for it. I’m not even going to get into the details on this one. Just know that it deregulates some aspects of bingo games used to raise funds for charitable organizations and that’s a good thing. Read more here.

Vote Yes on Proposition D — Fuel Tax Increase

Prop D is a far cry from the complete overhaul we need to make our transportation system more equitable and financially sustainable. But, this is a critical stop gap measure to ensure an almost adequate amount of funding to maintain our roads.

The fuel tax increase would set aside funding for the Highway Patrol (which has always been funded out of fuel tax revenue), freeing up more funding for roads and bridges. And $7 million would go directly to the city of Kansas City, Missouri to support maintenance of local streets.

In the long run we need to look for better ways to fund transportation — we have to think beyond a tax on fossil fuels. Vehicles continue to get more fuel efficient and many are switching to electric vehicles and this cuts off the only source of funding we have right now to pay for transportation at the state level.

We also need to be careful to not build more than we can afford to maintain. For example, why is MoDOT adding lanes to I-435 right now but doesn’t have the funding to replace the structurally deficient Buck O’Neil Bridge? The city of KCMO has committed to covering half of the $200 million to build a new bridge.

We have a rural highway system that is significantly larger than it should be and that comes at a cost to Kansas Citians. When we fill up our gas tanks here in the city, most of the state fuel tax goes to pay for these rural highways. We have underfunded public transportation to the point that only 18% of the region’s jobs are accessible by transit, giving many no other option than to drive. This places an enormous cost on thousands of low wage workers. Then to take the money they pay into fuel tax and spend it in other communities is a double injustice.

I’m willing to put my trust in MoDOT and other state officials by voting Yes on Prop D. But as a member of KCMO City Council I will be a tireless advocate for a system that truly benefits the people of Kansas City.

Vote Yes on the Library Question - Property Tax Levy

The Kansas City Public Library had 4 million visitors in 2017. Thousands of people use the library on a regular basis and depend on the many services the system provides. This especially true in our undeserved and under-resourced communities where the digital divide is the greatest. The library can provide a lifeline for folks to connect to basic services, reliable internet, and critical information.

My family uses the library regularly and we are more than happy to spend $25-30 extra dollars per year in property taxes to give the library the financial boost it needs to serve the people of Kansas City well into the future.

Please vote yes on the Library Question!

#EricEndorses - Vote yes on Prop B

There are 30,000 households in KCMO with a total income under $15,000 per year. That’s a minimum wage job — currently $7.85 per hour, — working 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. Yet a true living wage for a single person in this city is over $11 per hour (about $22,000 per year assuming no time off).

For a single parent? $24 per hour.

Hey, don’t make fun of my look! It’s 9:00 PM on a Friday and we just had a crazy fun time getting the twins ready for bed!

Hey, don’t make fun of my look! It’s 9:00 PM on a Friday and we just had a crazy fun time getting the twins ready for bed!

Raising the minimum wage in Missouri to be closer in line with a living wage is long overdue. Please vote Yes on Prop B to ensure our most vulnerable citizens have a fair shot.

We must ensure that the people of our community are guaranteed a chance to afford the basic necessities.

In fact, just last year KCMO voters approved a ballot initiative to set a local minimum wage at $10 per hour, rising to $15 per hour by 2022. Unfortunately, we were stymied by the Missouri General Assembly through preemption legislation. As a result, the ordinance placed on the ballot through petition and approved by KCMO voters, was unenforceable. The state minimum wage of $7.85 remained.

But you’ve got to hand it to KCMO Mayor Sly James and the City council for voluntarily complying with the the voter approved ordinance by establishing its own minimum wage for city employees and requiring city contractors to also comply.

So what’s preemption? Hey, I’m glad you asked!

Remember when I talked about home rule the other day? Well it’s a principle that grants cities and counties the ability to have a higher level of self-governance through the development of a charter. KCMO is a chartered city (as is Jackson County). Well despite the level of autonomy this grants these cities, sometimes the majority of the Missouri General Assembly wishes to prevent local governments like ours from passing laws that they don’t like. So they pass laws (see my post from Monday about how this works) that restrict the authority of these local governments from passing their own laws on a specific topic. This also prevents the voters of a municipality from petitioning for a new ordinance on that specific topic and voting to approve that ordinance.

This is called preemption.

For example, did you know that Missouri has a plastic bag ban ban?

Yep, you read that correctly. Local governments in Missouri and their voters are preempted from passing a law in their city banning plastic grocery bags.

Now, I’m not making a value judgement on the practice of banning plastic bags here. But I do believe there is something fundamentally wrong about legislators in Jefferson City making decisions about how we operate here in Kansas City.

This is exactly what happened with minimum wage.

What else can’t local governments control in Missouri?

  • Banning texting while driving

  • Regulating the sale and ownership of firearms

  • Establishing a local fuel tax

  • Establishing a local earnings tax - this one is actually more complicated, but still preempted

So, what does democracy look like in the age of preemption?

Getting the necessary signatures to petition the state to put a minimum wage increase on the ballot AND VOTING YES FOR IT.

Please vote yes on Prop B.

#EricEndorses: Vote No on Jackson County Questions 1 - 7.

I’m taking a little time to explain how I am voting on a few of the ballot initiatives in the November 6th midterm election. I’m sharing these in a series of blog posts called #EricEndorses. In my fist post I got into the weeds on the three medical marijuana initiatives.

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Today I recommend voting no on the seven Jackson County Questions. While I do agree with some of the sentiment behind the proposals, I find the approach to be problematic. The questions aim to revise the Jackson County Charter (more on what that means below) in some pretty fundamental ways. I simply feel that revisions of this magnitude deserve more time and attention than they have been given.

To view the detail of each of the questions here. You can scroll through and see the redline text of the affected sections of the Jackson County Charter.

Jackson County Questions Explainer

Yesterday, you may have seen my post endorsing Amendment 2 in which I discussed the difference between a proposition and an amendment. Well, there is yet another category of ballot initiatives to consider: Questions. These are typically issues that aim to change local laws - county or city - or increase a local tax. In this case the questions are aimed at revising the Jackson County Charter.

What’s the County Charter?

The Missouri Constitution grants certain counties (and cities for that matter) a higher level of self-governance, a concept known as home rule. Counties with more than 85,000 residents and cities greater than 5,000 can adopt a charter that establishes the structure and procedures of their government. So the charter functions similarly to how a constitution works at the state or federal level. Jackson County is 1 of 4 counties in Missouri that has a charter.

It’s important to note that cities within a home rule county are not governed by the county’s charter. Kansas City, for example, has its own charter. Cities and counties without charters are governed by general law.

Here’s the Jackson County Charter in full - happy reading!

Current Proposed Revisions

The seven questions on the November 6 ballot are a pretty significant change to the charter. They deal with a variety of structural and procedural issues within the charter primarily regarding the the duties and limits of county elected officials. Generally these all seem designed to limit the power of the county executive.

A very brief summary of each of the questions:

  • Question 1 limits the power of the county executive in several key ways and adds term limits for county legislatures

  • Question 2 would add a list of circumstances under which the county executive would have to forfeit office including unpaid taxes it also would add term limits to the executive’s office.

  • Question 3 adds circumstances under which the sheriff would be required to forfeit office and expands the power of the sherif to manage the county jail.

  • Question 4 adds circumstances under which the county prosecutor would have to forfeit office and puts the county’s anti-drug tax under the county prosecutor’s purview. Adds term limits to the prosecutor’s office.

  • Question 5 would strip some powers from the county counselor, a lawyer appointed by the county executive.

  • Question 6 transfers some power from the county counselor to the county prosecutor. It also requires a county court judge to have prior experience as a judge in the county.

  • Question 7 disqualifies a currently elected official of any other government from running for county elected office.

Charter Revision

Amending the county charter always requires approval of the voters of the county, just like the Missouri Constitution. Also like the Missouri Constitution, there are two primary ways that amendments are added to the ballot - through petition or a vote of the legislature.

The seven charter revision questions on the November 6 ballot were added by the Jackson County Legislature.

Charter Revisions vs. Ordinances

Charter revisions differ from county ordinances in much the same way that constitutional amendments differ from statutes. A charter defines the fundamental structure, processes and procedures of the county government whereas ordinances are municipal laws that are generally designed to protect the welfare of the people.

The path for a proposed ordinance to become law is much the same as a state statute. They can be proposed and approved by a legislative body and signed into law by the county executive or mayor. Or they can be added to the ballot through a petition process and then approved by voters.

#EricEndorses - Vote No on Questions 1 - 7.

With scandals plaguing the last three county executive office holders, change is definitely needed in the Jackson County government. The jail is in shambles. The previous Sherif resigned in disgrace. Power struggles between the different elected offices is a constant problem. The county needs reorganization.

However, the sweeping changes proposed in Questions 1-7 deserve far more public input. And that they appear to be in retaliation against a specific individual, County Executive Frank White, makes this approach especially shortsighted.

Even though I agree with many of the specific proposed changes, I will be voting No on Questions 1-7.

We need a fundamental shift in how the county is run and that should be explored through a lengthier process including the formation of a charter commission.