See, Abouhalkah, the Star's resident civic crusader, last week repeatedly blamed City Hall and "public officials" for not informing the voters about some less-than-savory consequences of the recent sales-tax hike. And this prime cut of meaty goodness was so envious that such a finely crafted essay appeared in print that it couldn't help but swipe the article like an apple off a fruit cart. The Strip sincerely hopes that Mr. Abouhalkah doesn't mind the outright rip-off but thinks of it instead as the ultimate compliment.
So here, without further ado, is Abouhalkah's hijacked column, presented with some slight changes, highlighted in bold print:
Chalk up another loss for accountability at The Kansas City Star.
Kansas Citians have the right to be irritated, even angry, at what they've learned since passing a city sales-tax increase last month to improve the Area Transportation Authority.
The Kansas City Star never gave taxpayers important details about the new tax, expected to generate $22 million annually for five years. It was one of the sloppiest jobs of local election reporting in the last 15 years.
The guilty parties include Yael T. Abouhalkah and the entire editorial board of what passes for a daily newspaper in this town.
Before the Nov. 4 election, the Star, which endorsed the tax but apparently didn't bother to look into the details of it, simply didn't inform taxpayers about something that Casey Logan explained in clear, compelling language in a 4,000-word Pitch cover story nearly two weeks before the election ("Busted," October 23).
Namely, that the city will have to give $2 million a year from the new sales-tax dollars to a few dozen developers instead of the ATA. (OK, Logan didn't give an actual dollar amount of the annual increase, but he did explain that siphoning away transportation money to rich developers -- more than $5 million in the last three years -- was a major reason why the bus system needed rescuing in the first place, something the Star still hasn't acknowledged.)
These postelection surprises have undermined the credibility of the Star at an inopportune time.
Now that the election is over, ATA officials concede the loss of TIF-related revenues will reduce how much money the agency can pump into its cash reserves for unanticipated costs. (Actually, ATA officials conceded this before the election, in Logan's story.)
Which brings us to where the Star fell down on the job.
Columnists like Abouhalkah are responsible for telling voters how their money is to be used.
So it's his duty to check out the Pitch in the future and make sure Kansas Citians have good reasons to either support or oppose a tax, fee or bond issue -- and figure out what to do on the weekend.
Because of the careless way the Star covered this sales-tax campaign, the newspaper is going to have to be much more open and up-front the next time it gets its ass handed to it by the local weekly.
Besides whining that city officials didn't tell him that some of the sales-tax increase would go to developers, Abouhalkah bawled because no one told him another tax rate would also increase as a result of last month's vote.
It's called a use tax, and it's charged to businesses that buy products from out-of-state suppliers (therefore bypassing sales taxes) and then use those products here.
But one person who has little sympathy for the Star's whining is a local blogger named Heidi Schallberg. (See, Yael, how easy it is to give credit where it's due?) Schallberg smartly points out on her Web site http://heidi.typepad.com/memyi/ that the Star only needed to do a little research in its own archives to realize that a hike in sales taxes would also result in an increase in the use tax.
"The Star has a really odd case of amnesia," Schallberg writes before pointing out the following line that appeared in a June 2001 Star editorial:
"Any increase in the city's sales tax also means that the city's use tax -- which is imposed on catalog sales -- goes up by an equal amount."
But there's an even better reason why some of Abouhalkah's employers, at least, should have been intimately aware of the use tax and its fluctuations -- and you can see that reason for yourself as it goes up on McGee Street between Truman Road and 17th Street.
The Star's ski-jump-shaped $199 million-dollar printing plant, scheduled to open in 2006 (thanks, in part, to $12 million in tax breaks), will no doubt contain lots of equipment bought from far-flung locales and therefore subject to the use tax.
But the Strip knows questions about local taxes is heady stuff, and it hates to be hard on Abouhalkah for struggling to grasp it. Just to show that there are no hard feelings -- and to compensate for its brazen act of theft -- this lean sirloin feels compelled to reciprocate by handing the Star's columnist a ready-made idea that he can rant about in next week's paper.
Psst, Yael! Give city Budget Officer Troy Schulte a call, and he'll tell you: More money for developers is also being sucked off the use-tax increase! About $150,000 in additional funds will be diverted to wealthy fat cats in the next year as a result of the tax hike.
But you didn't hear it here first. Nudge, nudge.