The campaign to eliminate the earnings tax in Kansas City has put a face on the tax. An East Side face.
An image of a grim-looking Emanuel Cleaver II appears on the section of the KC Tax Reform website devoted to the tax's history. It's an interesting choice, given that the tax was enacted before Cleaver went into office and endured for 12 years after he left city government.
Oh, but there's a connection! When he ran for mayor in 1991, Cleaver talked about raising the tax from 1 percent to 1.5 percent.
The Cleaver-era e-tax increase was a nonstarter. As the KC Tax Reform site indicates, the e-tax rate has remained constant since 1970, when it went from 0.5 percent to 1 percent.
In any case, Cleaver is far from the only city official to have floated the idea of taking a bigger cut from the paychecks of people who live and work in Kansas City. Yet he appears to be the only public figure the site recognizes with an unflattering still image.
In the early 1980s, a councilman named J. Harold Hamil talked about raising the e-tax an additional half-percent. The city, Hamil explained, had every right to additionally tax people who work in Kansas City but may live elsewhere because of the "special expenses" -- zookeeping, etc. -- that the metro area's largest city incurs. Ed Ford, who is back on the City Council after a term-limits-imposed absence from 2003 and 2007, indicated that he was open to raising the earnings tax when he first ran for office in '91.
Hamil died in 1988. But Ford is seeking another term on the council and is in a far better position than Cleaver to influence the city's tax policy. Cleaver finished his second term as mayor in 1999 and has spent the last six years in Congress. So why not make Ford the face of taxing-and-spending municipal government? Could it be that a white lawyer who lives north of the river doesn't quite communicate the concept of "wealth redistribution" the way that the city's most prominent African-American politician does?
Before you answer, consider that the website was built by operatives at Axiom Strategies, a political shop known for playing rough. In 2008, longtime Axiom client U.S. Rep. Sam Graves aired a commercial accusing former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes of "celebrating ... San Francisco values." Four years earlier, Axiom principal Jeff Roe advised Jeanne Patterson, the Republican whom Cleaver faced when he ran for Congress in 2004. Patterson ran radio ads bemoaning Cleaver's "corruption."
Christian Morgan, an associate at Axiom, explains the decision to single out Cleaver on the website this way:
Emanuel Cleaver proposed increasing the earnings tax. This city is at a crossroads and desperately needs a discussion about its future.