Reasons abound to oppose Bistate
by Bruce Rodgers
The main reason
to vote against Bistate II remains the same now, just a few days before
the vote on Nov. 2, as it did months ago when it was first proposed.
Bistate II gives your and my money to people who will do what they
please with it.
Wayne Flaherty, with the group Kansans Against Bi-State,
calls that reasoning the biggest argument against the tax. I
really think its the accountability issue, he says, because
people at every level understand it. My money is being spent by someone
else, and I dont have any control over the spending.
Flaherty may not object to calling Bistate II welfare. And the argument
he uses to challenge the soundness of the Bistate II proposal was
a major part of the rationale that brought Republicans and Democrats
together in the late 1990s to reform the welfare system as it applied
But the welfare recipients were poor, with little political clout.
They had to take the changes to be accountable.
With Bistate II, the recipients are wealthy on one hand
owners of the Chiefs and Royals and on the other, well
funded major arts and cultural institutions in Kansas City.
The $1.2 billion proposal would send $180 million each to Arrowhead
and Kauffman stadiums. The Chiefs would contribute another $50 million,
the Royals $15 million. A fact sheet on the Think Big
Web site (www.voteBIG.org) states
that major improvements are needed to plumbing, electrical and mechanical
systems, that concourses need to be expanded, concessions added and
restrooms updated. Something called the Metropolitan Stadium Improvements
Board supposedly will oversee the spending.
Opponents have a long list of complaints, counterclaims
and questions concerning how the tax money is to be spent. For one,
Flaherty points to the current lease the teams have with Jackson County
as the source of the problem of not maintaining the stadiums. And
a 2003 review by the Office of the State Auditor of Missouri under
Claire McCaskill of the lease agreement between the teams and the
Jackson County Sports Complex Authority pointed to a revenue shortfall
by the Authority in meeting its obligations under the leases
without additional funding.
Flaherty blames Jackson County only for not adequately
funding needed upkeep of the stadiums and that the agency chose to
wait for a bistate tax bailout from area taxpayers to solve
renovation issues. Taxpayers in Wyandotte, Clay or Platte counties
are not at fault, he adds, for the problems at the stadiums.
Missouri-side Bistate II opponents agree with Flaherty.
A position paper by Taxpayers Against Bi-State II states that the
tax is not just about stadium renovations or keeping the teams
in Kansas City...(it is) also a bailout of the Jackson County Sports
Opponents continually stress that passage of Bistate II does not guarantee
how the money would be spent at the stadiums, including if the profits
generated by the tax would be spent by the teams to improve the teams
winning percentage on the field.
The bistate tax is not about building winning teams, its
about higher profits for team owners, says Flaherty. Since
the teams keep their books secret, no one will ever know what they
do with the profits.
Opponents laugh at any oversight authority in stadium
spending by a board or committee with representatives from both Missouri
and Kansas. Flaherty notes that only the Jackson County Sports Authority
can legally enforce any contractual obligations made with teams. He
calls such a committee just a group of appointed citizens who
only watch and can do nothing except cry wolf.
If Bistate II passes, some $600 million will be funneled to the arts.
Thats a huge amount and over the supposed 12 -to 15-year life
of the tax; opponents say it amounts to between $116,000 to $136,000
The underlying premise by proponents of the tax is that current area
arts funding is inadequate for a metropolitan area like Kansas City.
Yet anyone familiar with KCs arts scene knows that the large
institutions generally fare well in attracting money; small arts organizations,
be it dance, theatre, visual arts or creative writing, struggle to
Mark Esping with Taxpayers Against Bistate II, likes to point to the
$2.5 million spent at KCI on the floor and murals. Factoring in the
areas population, that expenditure alone is over a dollar
per person right there, he says. Esping adds that proponents
claim that spending on arts overall only amounts to a dollar per person.
Pointing out that proponents like to compare Denvers arts
spending ($15 per person) to what KC spends, Esping says his figures
show that spending on arts for Kansas City, MO residents amounts to
$27.66 per person for cultural institutions and arts related
activities. Figures for the metropolitan area as a whole, says Esping,
indicate spending is $7.88 per person.
Esping says he and other opponents arrived at their figures by doing
a line-by-line comparison of expenditures for major arts institutions
in Denver with Kansas City, using each citys budget. We
looked at comparable funding of similar institutions in Denver,
The result of such comparison, he says, means Kansas
City has one of the best reputations for private foundation funding
of the arts. What it says is that we have great entrepreneurs and
(arts) education already. Theres always room for more, but the
point is were not the chintzy people they (proponents) say we
Accountability in arts spending, like in the sports component
of Bistate II, remains an issue with opponents of the tax.
After a $50 million handout to help construct a downtown
Performing Arts Center something financial supporters of the
Center admit isnt necessary to ensure building the structure
the remaining tax money will be placed in what is called a
Metropolitan Culture Fund.
Interestingly enough, the Think Big Web site points out that No
single institution is guaranteed money from this fund and each will
be required to outline what the money is for; who will benefit from
it and then be held accountable for how it is spent.
It appears the Performing Arts Center and its primary financial backer,
Julia Kauffman, is exempt from that stipulation.
Final funding decisions and accountability is supposed to reside with
the Metropolitan Culture Fund. Grant proposals for funding will be
reviewed by citizen advisory committees in each county and by a regional
citizens advisory committee.
The Think Big Web site avoids mentioning that the Metropolitan
Culture Fund will be administered by the Metropolitan Cultural District
Commission, also known as the Bistate Commission. It was the Bistate
Commission that oversaw the spending on Union Station after the passage
of the first bistate tax. Union Station has suffered repeated financial
difficulties since renovation was funded by the tax.
As Flaherty points out, After spending $118 million
of bistate money, they have produced a venue with a $10 million per
year operating deficit. No one has been called to account for this
egregious mismanagement of public funds.
Theres little denying that major area arts institutions
the Nelson-Akins Museum, Starlight Theatre, the Carlsen Center
will easily get the funding they desired from Bistate II. Those institutions
have a network of private donors that yield considerable influence
over public policy decisions, many through their financial ventures
into the political arena. Smaller arts institutions, organizations
and artists themselves will have to fight harder.
Esping, who once owned an art gallery in Lindsborg, KS and served
on a state arts committee, says he saw the politicalization of the
I found excellence in arts at a common man level, he says.
Its very hard to get elitists to look at that. The
result is that arts, crafts and creativity done at the community center
or public school level get ignored.
As its proposed, adds Esping, there are no set
asides or guarantees in the Bistate II arts segment. Advocating a
different way, Esping says, With an egalitarian way of dispensing
money, they (small arts groups and artists) will be categorized. Thats
the only way to keep this from being a slush fund for the wealthy...as
an arts function.
Theres more to Flaherty, Esping and Terrence Nashs,
another outspoken Bistate II opponent, arguments. On just about every
point pushed by proponents from length of time the tax will
be levied to the economic benefits from having sports teams
they have countered with facts and research studies related to similar
public funding proposals. The opponents came well prepared. Its
no wonder the proponents refuse to debate the issue much beyond a
quality of life assertion.
Instead, what we have is millions of dollars being spent (over $3
million versus the opponents $30,000) to convince voters that
this tax is in their best interest, coupled with rumors of dirty tricks
being played, particularly centered on remarks by former Shawnee City
Council member Tracy Thomas. Opponents were angry about public comments
by Thomas in early October about baseball being obsolete
and her pointing out the ethnic makeup of Royals players.
Thomas once worked as an assistant to area political consultant Jerry
Jett, who helped launch the political consulting career of Pat Gray,
primary consultant on the Think Big campaign. Bistate II opponents
openly wondered if Thomas made the remarks on purpose to embarrass
Bistate II opponents.
Opponents also have questioned the legality of pro-Bistate II signs
hanging at Arrowhead Stadium. To date, officials from the Missouri
Ethics Commission and state attorney generals office have not
issued responses on the question.
At the very least, this action by proponents in placing political
signs espousing a one-sided view on public property raises questions
in how fairly and ethically public officials will manage taxpayers
money if Bistate II passes.
Phil E. Klein, a Johnson County activist, filed a complaint with the
Missouri Ethics Commission on Oct. 5. The complaint cites violations
based on a KCMO ordinance and Jackson County code, and notes that
opponents were not offered equal access. Klein says that he has not
heard back from the commission.
They say that it will be investigated in the near future,
says Klein, but they didnt say when or how or where. Theyre
sweeping it under the rug, and in my opinion, the Ethics Commission
doesnt want to make waves.
The term welfare queen was used to describe
individuals milking the system at the expense of taxpayers. Viewing
the Think Big campaign as more akin to Think Pig delivers
a similar connotation.
Like welfare for individuals that saw reform, corporate welfare needs
reform. Voting against Bistate II is a good place to start.
For more information, visit the following Web sites: www.voteBIG.org,
www.taxhog.com and www.kansasmeadowlark.com.
Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at