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The dirth of imagination in my town

We have a new spat in Kansas City regarding a one-percent tax on income earned within the city limits. Employees pay a percent out of their incomes. Employers pay a percent on the employee’s incomes. It used to be a grand idea when the city center was still the metropolitan area’s heart.

Actually, I’m still all about it. But I’m a more progressive-tax kind of guy. I’d like to see people with incomes under the median exempt from the tax. Everyone above the median pay two percent. Employers pay one percent all the way around.

But I’m also willing to dump the damn thing because I’m sick of hearing about it and really tired of our city representatives’ plodding the worn path of capitalist paternalism.

This all comes up because ultra-extra-conservative, “exploit free of government control” capitalist Rex Sinquefield decided he doesn’t want his business buddies to pay the earnings tax anymore. It’s become his beholden duty to screw the crap out of Kansas City. Besides being one of the inventors of the index fund–which really works for people with a lot of money–he runs the Show-Me Institute, an organization known more for its backward, Babbit-like love of country-club acceptance than for any social good it claims to have done.

Name a conservative cause in Missouri and Sinquefield has a PAC for it. Anti-union, pro-business, ant-worker, pro-life, etc., etc., etc. Shamefully, he labels all his causes with innocuous sounding monikers that appeal to the ideals embedded deep in the American DNA. Choice, democracy, freedom, liberty–all the grand terms with little or no meaning that are bantered about with the intention of fucking the hell out of people who have little or no access to the means of economic or cultural production.

So I’m not exaggerating when I say that the most recent, “Let the Voters Decide” campaign is yet another conservative/reactionary attempt to convince the powerless, frightened, and feeling under siege commoner that they ought to take part in their own fucking.

Even worse than just trying to screw the poor again are the politicians who sit around screwing the poor for a hobby. They don’t think they’re doing it. They don’t probably mean to do it. But they do it because they don’t question the operations of day-to-day government/corporation/business. They can’t see past the way things work to change the way things work.

Maybe the good of Sinquefield is that by being his exploiting, self-serving self he reveals the lack of imagination, original thought, and dynamism on the part of Kansas City politicians. I used to be hesitant to say, “politicians that come out of the Democratic machine.” I’m a Democrat and very proud of it. But I’ve seen how selfish, self-serving, conservative, and Republican-like my alleged “Democratic” compatriots can be. So, I don’t feel the least bit ashamed to pull the pants off my own people. After all, they don’t have much on to begin with.

So, in that spirit, I wrote the following to my Kansas City Fourth City Council District representative, Jan Marcason. At one time, you might have thought that Marcason had the city’s poor and working people in mind. For years she was the head of the Mid-America Assistance Council, which coordinated poverty relief efforts in the metropolitan area.

Turns out, she’s a bureaucrat who hasn’t had an original thought in a long, long time. She likes developers because they allegedly supply us poor suckers with jobs. She’s not about to offend anyone in the nonprofit “community,” by looking to see if the poor and downtrodden would benefit from, perhaps, a new way of thinking, new approaches to dealing with the evils and excesses of capitalism, etc., etc. Jan embodies this town’s nonprofits’ main strength–very few people (and no one with political or social power) look past the nonprofit veil to see if anything altruistic is happening in there.

It is so disappointing that those who work, who strive, who uphold and support a system of wealth and power accumulation have to suffer because of their positions on the bottom of the economic and social order. I wonder, sometimes, if Jan Marcason has ever even questioned the economic, social, and cultural systems that produce poverty. She sure doesn’t has not act like it, supporting outdated development schemes and regressive and anti-progressive taxes. The only thing she seems to do well, besides making sure her monetary patrons are happy, is maintain her incessant “I won’t cooperate with the mayor” attitude toward governing.

In any case, here is my letter. It includes a suggestion for a way to tax our citizens for government and government services in a way that relieves the working from working harder than they have to. After all, anyone who’s familiar with poverty knows it’s really tough, tough work being poor.

—–

Patrick Dobson
1717 Jarboe St.
Kansas City, MO 64108
816-896-4746

Jan Marcason
City Hall, City Council
4585 Walnut
Kansas City, MO 64111
816-756-1964
jan@jan4kc.com

Jan,

Creative thinking, progressive thinking, is sorely lacking on the city council. Instead of running around frightened, sacred, throwing scary-scenarios at the public, take a moment and think about the E-tax. Sure, it provides a bunch of money to the general fund. And, indeed, it was a good idea to make people who do business and work in Kansas City pay for the privilege. But there is are better, more progressive and less income invasive ways to make up the city revenues that come out of the earnings tax.

Normally, I would not have thought too much about the earnings tax. But now that the subject is before us—regardless of who brought it up and their motives for doing so (frankly, I think this is a Harold Jarvis-like attempt to hobble government)—it is time to reassess the usefulness and the anti-progressive nature of the tax.

As you know, I am passionate about doing away with any taxes that dig into the living-incomes of working people. Disposable wages for a majority of the city’s working people—and working poor—are either slim or non-existent. Most of Kansas Citians, as you know, are not in the upper-third of wage earners and a majority live at or below the regional and national median income. That being said, levying and maintaining sales taxes and income (earnings) taxes on people who are already on the edge are merely ways of wringing more dimes out of the poor that should come from people who benefit from having a stable pool of labor, means to accumulate wealth, and the keys to maintaining their wealth.

Sorry, Jan, but you should know better than to continue to argue for anti-progressive taxes. I realize that any deviation from the norm in terms of governing, taxing, and providing for the city’s working people will cost you votes, campaign funds, and working political capital. I also understand that now is a rotten time to be kind to people who need it—after all, look at what’s happening to one of the most progressive presidents in American history. But, Jan, I want to cuss and scream when I watch you, my representative in city government, walk the same, tired, worn line that nearly every rep from this district (or the previous, redrawn district) has walked.

Over and over, I have watched you say and do the same things that every backroom Democrat really wants done and wants to keep being done. Too bad for us, as Democrats, that we are still stuck in maintaining the George Babbit-Chamber of Commerce status quo. I know that you city council seat is a non-partisan position, but you and I both know where your support comes from. It saddens me, particularly, that you, who should understand the pressures that the working people of this city are under, have not put forward one new idea for funding this city except to continue strapping the working and working poor with taxes that, rightly, people with disposable incomes should be paying.

It’s time to move our outdated and tax-shifting property tax system into taxes more heavily weighted toward ad valorum, or land-value. In taxing land on its market value rather than the tax we have now that taxes improvements and the market value of buildings on that land, we will afford some change for the working people of this city very quickly.

My reasoning is this: Property taxes already have an element of land-value in them, as the market-value of the land contributes to the total value of the properties—land and improvements—that land represents. Taxing the value of land improves the chances that the owners of land will improve their properties—that is, do something with it. Suddenly, owners of properties on the Eastside will find themselves with tax bills that will compel them to either pay more for the privilege of being able to land bank, build or improve properties, or get out of the land banking business altogether.

Right now, our difficulty in thinking about revenue in any other way than an outdated and anti-progressive earnings tax is that vacant land gets taxed minimally or not at all, while improvements on real property are taxed at shifting market values: Thus, the recent downturn in the housing market and its fallout that has everyone running scared on even thinking differently about the earnings tax.

Another difficulty is facing large landowners who are in the land-banking business: developers, Kansas City Life Insurance Cpmpany, individual citizens who either have had vacant city properties in the family for years or who are handing down vacant lands to their children. Our city already suffers too greatly by having giant holes in the middle of communities. Vacant residential properties shatter the special/social elements conducive to healthy, safe neighborhoods. But there is no greater safeguard against income and racial flight, crime, and sense of community than having all our holes filled with productive, useful properties. Better lighting won’t do it. More police won’t do it. People, living and working, owning their own homes and being invested in their communities—making this city “home” rather than just another stopping point before moving to the suburbs or being flushed down the social toilet into poverty.

The shift toward property taxes that are more land-value weighted does not mean that wealthy real estate owners, landlords, and development companies will not have to pay for improvements. I am not arguing that all taxes on improvements be done away with. What I am saying is that moving toward a greater percentage of land value in property taxes means more revenues that are more steady coming from people who can afford to own land.

The impact on individual residential owners, of course, will be the first line of argument against such thinking. But I’m sick of working and middle-class people being pimped for the benefit of the wealthy. We can certainly, with work, persistence, and creative thinking balance out the shift toward greater land-value taxation so that people aren’t driven out of their homes. At the same time, we can—again with work, persistence, and creative thinking—increase the revenues to the city by the amount needed to run city government, banking, of course, on the increase in taxes on improvements for future increases in revenues.

Sure, Jan, it’s complicated. There’re are all kinds of arguments about state legislation, territorial claims of county government, etc. Being innovative doesn’t mean that everyone will get it or that you will be God’s gift to the people. Shifting our taxes toward land value will take time. It will not win you any friends among the people, corporations, and land bankers who will be beholden to their communities by paying their fair share. But I can’t help but think that we, as Kansas Citians, can do something other than continually levy and use unfair and anti-progressive taxes for city government.

I am always here to serve.

Rev. Patrick Dobson

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