We've heard the radio ads. We've seen the television commercials. We gotta get behind this Bistate II tax hike and think like the BIG LEAGUE CITY WE OUGHTA BE!
How did Kansas City Star civic crusader Yael Abouhalkah put it? Oh, yeah: We gotta jump on the County Question 1 bandwagon for the sake of families! For middle-income people! For residents in the urban core! And best of all -- for suburbanites who want to live in a major-league community!
Atta boy, Yael! You tell 'em! Yer darn right -- Kansas City needs to join the big leagues, baby!
Whew. Let's hold up a minute and take things a little slower before this meat patty overtenderizes itself with all this cheerleadin'.
Think big? Yeah, we can think big, all right. Big is exactly what came to mind last week when the Strip sat down to chow at d'Bronx, the great pizza joint on 39th Street, and noticed the sales-tax rate for its friggin' lunch.
NINE point EIGHT FIVE percent.
Now that's big, baby.
Some time ago, the Strip noticed that diners in this town pay an amazing amount in taxes. Sure, sales tax on retail items in Kansas City is a not-exorbitant 7.35 percent, but sit down at a restaurant to scarf up that precious KC barbecue, and you're gonna have to slather on 9.35 percent in taxes. And in certain areas, like the 39th Street neighborhood and the Plaza, the rate gets bumped even higher. And because this hungry heifer has several 39th Street favorites, such as Blue Koi and Genghis Khan and Great India, that extra vigorish for the city's coffers ends up costing real money over the course of a year.
Hey, Yael, ain't 9.85 percent already pretty major-league?
The Strip wondered what tax rates were like elsewhere in the bigs -- in the eight cities, for example, with teams that were "major league" enough to make the baseball playoffs.
Take the Boston Red Sox. The team may be laboring under an 84-year-old curse, but the city's diners sure aren't. Sales tax on beans in Beantown: only 5 percent. Atlanta Braves fans get by with a 7 percent tax. Anaheim Angels followers pay a little higher (7.75 percent), Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers diehards pay even more (8.25 percent), and New York Yankees devotees pay quite a lot (8.625 percent).
But the Yanks got nothing on us. You pay more tax money on your pepperoni with extra cheese at d'Bronx on 39th Street than you do in the borough it was named for. New York thinks it's hot? It ain't so hot.
St. Louis, meanwhile, tops out the playoff cities with a massive 9.116 percent tax rate at downtown eateries.
But Kansas City has 'em all beat. Go, team!
Oops. There's a squad we overlooked. The Minnesota Twins. The AL Central champ's fans pay only a 7 percent rate in the city's restaurants, but downtown it's a different story. Eat in Minneapolis' central district, and you're paying 10 percent for the city fathers. The high tax there is the legacy of a rate hike enacted 17 years ago to raise funds for a new convention center. (Sound familiar?)
OK, so maybe the Twins outscore us. We're used to it. But that's why the vote on November 2 is so crucial. KC voters, don't blow this opportunity to overtake our northern rivals when we come up to bat on Election Day!
Think of it -- if we approve a quarter-cent sales-tax hike, that 39th Street Chipotle burrito will come with a tax bill you're gonna need an accountant to add up! We're talking a sales tax of 10 point 1 percent!
Beat that, Twins!
Hell, why stop there? Ya think 10.1 percent is big-league? Try 92 percent.
That's going to be our share of the $195 million in improvement costs scheduled for Kauffman Stadium. Other cities -- minor-league wussies -- pay only about 66 percent of stadium construction costs on average, requiring team owners to come up with the remaining 34 percent. The Strip knows this because it read David Martin's excellent analysis of Bistate II in these pages over the summer ("The Season of Greed," August 5). Martin showed that when team owners in other parts of the country ask for improvements that primarily help those owners make more profits, the cities ask them to chip in about a third of the cost. But not us! We're major-league! We're happy to pay a macho 92 percent, or $180 million, and we're only asking Royals owner David Glass and his team to come up with the remaining 8 percent, or $15 million.
We are so friggin' generous.
Hey, but we have a gun to our heads, right? We gotta pass this tax, or the teams will leave town. That's what we're being told, anyway. Back in 1990, Jackson County bent over for the Chiefs and the Royals and signed crappy leases that locked taxpayers into paying for open-ended stadium improvements over a 25-year period. Well, it turns out the new press box and additional toilets and other amenities promised in those leases cost a hell of a lot more than anyone anticipated in 1990. Jackson County can't afford 'em. And if it doesn't come up with the improvements, both teams can leave as early as 2007.
The teams have us by the short hairs, and once again they put one over on the county in new lease agreements tied to success on the Bistate II vote. Pass the tax, and we'll pay more taxes on our burritos and pizza -- and everything else -- to raise a shitload of cash so we can hand $360 million of it to Glass and Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt for construction of luxury boxes, club seating and advertising space that make them even more money.
See? It's a we-scratch-their-backs, they-open-new-trust-funds-for-their-kids kinda deal.
Of course, the average fan who'll never see the inside of a luxury box still benefits from the transaction. Yeah, it's a great bargain for us average folks --
We raise a billion dollars, we get ... wider concourses.
How great is that? We're supporting a baseball team that lost 104 games this season, but walking over to buy a brew between innings, we'll be able to stroll in uncrowded comfort!
Surely that kind of fan experience is worth paying a little more on every purchase we make for the next 12 to 15 years.
And here's the best part -- spending so much to improve the sports complex is bound to have an economic benefit for everything that's located close to the stadiums. After all, that's the only legitimate rationale for spending taxpayer money to help private businesses make more profits, right? That there's a spillover effect? And just think of what wonders our gleaming new Kauffman and Arrowhead will do for the area that surrounds them -- which, um, consists of some parking lots and a couple of gas stations.
Now that's forward thinking.
Still, as the Strip was biting into its 9.85-percent-surcharged slice of pizza last week, it couldn't help thinking what a disaster it might be if all of Yael's cheerleadin' comes to naught.
What if this city doesn't think big? What if taxes on our Saigon 39 spring rolls don't get jacked up past a dime on the dollar?
In its reverie, the Strip imagined a Kansas City without Bistate II. One where a different kind of plan is enacted to raise not $180 million to benefit the Royals but actually a little more -- in the $200 million to $250 million range, but still far less than the $400 million that new megastadiums typically cost -- for a smaller, boutique ballpark with the character of a Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, planted smack in the middle of downtown. Just a snug little place with 25,000 seats or so, plenty for all but the big crowds of Opening Day and (fingers crossed) playoff games. A place designed the way David Martin described it in his article, citing Brad Schrock of 360 Architects, who says temporary seats could be added for the really big nights.
And the impact on our taxes could be a lot less significant -- if, that is, Mr. Moneybags Team Owner chipped in his fair share and we didn't pile on $500 million in unbegged-for arts spending as a blatant bribe to get votes out of Johnson County moms.
Sure, with a more substantial contribution from Glass, we wouldn't begrudge him a whole passel of luxury boxes. Hell, Glass could glass in as many corporate bigwigs as he wanted, as long as we got an old-timey brick-and-steel ballpark experience right in the middle of town, where it might actually do some economic good.
Ahhhh, the vision was a tempting one. But soon enough, this presumptuous prairie oyster snapped back to reality.
Hell. That kind of thinkin' isn't big enough for this town.
So bring on the new freakin' tariff.
THINK BIG. THINK 10.1!