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Ward grew up in Raytown. Her father sold cars. Her mother, who died in 2001, ran an herb store. Her parents' experiences as small-business owners left an impression. "I was brought up on the concept of you don't spend what you don't have," she says.
She lived in midtown for several years before buying a house near Bannister Mall. Her most recent occupation: bartender.
"I've never had a flashy job," she says. "I've always liked the jobs that actually keep you on your feet and up and moving and doing stuff."
Ward's challenge will be convincing voters that a nonprofessional with a punk-rock hairdo and straight-rock husband can handle the budget, pension obligations, and multibillion-dollar upgrade of the city's sewers. She's easily dismissed by veteran campaign consultants, such as Steve Glorioso, who calls her candidacy a "flight of fancy."
But the most provocative thing about Ward is not her hair. It's her opposition to the earnings tax, the 1-percent income tax that Kansas City charges residents and nonresidents who work in the city. The tax comes up for a vote in April, an election forced by a statewide ballot initiative that was funded by Rex Sinquefield, the billionaire Missourian who believes in free markets with nearly religious zeal. The tax, should voters eliminate it, will fade away in 0.10-percent increments over a period of 10 years, forcing the city to replace or live without revenue that added up to $202 million this year.
Ward claims that people in her district won't mind if the tax disappears. "They don't want it anymore because they're not seeing any benefits from it," she says, glossing over the fact that the tax pays for trash removal, police patrols, and other basic functions that her district's residents obviously use. "So why are we extracting more money from them if they're not getting the services for it?"
What services would Ward cut from the budget if the e-tax disappeared?
"I'm not cutting any services," she says. "I would cut spending."
Of course, spending and services are the same thing; you can't cut one without cutting the other. Still, Ward believes that the city could absorb the loss of the earnings tax without missing a beat. "If we have a $1.3 billion budget, and we're worried about [cutting] $202 million over 10 years? Seems a little ridiculous to me."
Talking about the budget, Ward's freshness takes a turn for the naïve. While the city's annual budget is $1.3 billion, most of that revenue is untouchable. The money that the city collects from sewer bills gets spent on sewers. Revenue from water bills gets spent on water treatment. Once these "enterprise funds" are depleted, the city's budget looks more like $458 million.
This remaining pot of money pays for firefighters, codes inspectors, dogcatchers, Legal Aid and a bunch of other services. Ward's neighbors may think that these services are deficient now. But if they were cut almost in half — which would happen without the e-tax or something in its place — those neighbors would really notice the difference.
Ward's association with the Liberty Restoration Project may also pose a problem. Everyone loves liberty, especially his or her own. But Bleish, a host of Ward's fundraiser at the Gusto, is firmly on the fringe. She's open to the ideas that 9/11 was an inside job and that President Barack Obama's birth certificate is a fake.