publisher's note
March 31 , 2006




Fairness, fear and the big disconnect
by Bruce Rodgers

Sports, taxes and politics, all dumped together for the public to mix under the 3/8-cent sales tax and “Rolling Roof” April 4 ballot proposals for Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums, have been cooked to an emotional stew and seasoned with propaganda, half-truths, personal attacks and, oh yeah, facts, when they can squeeze through the hyperbole and sports’ cliché-laced rhetoric.

Jackson County taxpayers have paid attention to this, maybe more so than any other tax proposal. Local sports radio has seen listenership expand and area pundits, in print and on the TV, have cashed in on the opportunity to drag business heavyweights like Lamar Hunt and David Glass before cameras or experienced the excitement of having their phone calls personally returned. The Kansas City Star hasn’t devoted this much ink to a subject since the Plaza flood of 1977. The buzz is big and many people are undecided.

For sure though, most people who will vote against the $700 million proposals don’t want the teams to leave Kansas City. Repeatedly, opponents have said that what they want is the recognition that the public deserves a better deal.

And, just as certain, the majority of people voting for Questions 1 and 2, are afraid the teams will leave if the proposals don’t pass and fear a diminishing of their town’s image and influence on a national scale if the Chiefs or Royals depart.

Most noticeable is the fact that no public officeholder, not one county legislator, not even so-called “progressive” Scott Burnett from the 1st District, have stood up for taxpayers. It’s ordinary taxpayers, fending for themselves, with little campaign money, demanding that the public get a better deal. The fact that most every public official in Jackson County stands on the side of multimillionaires shows the interlocking relationship between wealth and politics, and the disconnect between the “peoples’ business” and the making sure the wealthy get with they think they deserve. This symbiosis between public officeholders and wealthy businessmen breeds corruption and incompetence, and only attracts the easily manipulated and morally indifferent to public life.

“They were hard, tough and good negotiations, a give and take,” said attorney Sly James, a proponent, at the KMBZ Town Meeting on March 30.

There is nothing to prove James is correct. Meetings were held behind closed doors and only the final agreement was reported upon. The result is a tax package for 25 years that could cost taxpayers, when including interest, more than a billion dollars. Of which, the Chiefs and Royals put in around $100 million.

From the very beginning the talk from County Executive Katheryn Shields was doing what was necessary to “keep the teams.” She said nothing about “hard, tough” negotiations or a “give and take” to get the best deal for taxpayers. Considering the money decided upon — between $425 and $575 million, an amount opponents contend could build a new stadium and as WHB sports radio jock Kevin Keitzman says, “Nobody has put this much money in renovating existing stadiums” — one could speculate Shields accepted the first figure given to her by the teams and then padded it to garner political support.

And since Jackson County officeholders did little to get a good deal for taxpayers, one can expect that little will be done to insure the money will be spent, if the proposals pass, as it should on a public facility. The pledge to hire “an independent firm” to oversee the work rings hollow when considering that politically connected Gayle Holiday would “monitor efforts to ensure women and minority” participation in the construction — for $100,000 a year during each year of construction.

No consideration was given to any other way that would be more impartial and costing less money to guarantee this so-called monitoring. Holiday’s participation has all the earmarks of a political payback to guarantee the support of Freedom Inc.

In the last few days, taxpayers have witnessed another political sideshow with the resignation of former Jackson County prosecutor and Court of Appeals judge Albert Riederer as a co-chair to the Save Our Stadiums campaign and filing for the 2nd District Jackson County legislative seat held by current Jackson County Legislative Chairman Henry Rizzo; then, a day later, withdrawing his filing.

So what set Riederer off? Was it moral indignation as to the excessive political dealing? Was Riederer trying to give Jackson County taxpayers at least some semblance of an honest process when it came to contracts awarded for new stadium work?

Riederer isn’t talking but I bet such shenanigans have caught the attention of the U.S. Attorney’s office (as if the G-men need to be reminded about Jackson County politics).

Kansas Citians love their college and pro sports. Fear of losing the Chiefs and Royals is really all the proponents of these tax proposals have going for them. Whether the teams go or not is a private business decision and should not be the basis of having the public decide whether to interject hundreds of millions of public tax dollars to help the owners make up their mind. The public has no say as to the price of tickets, of parking, of concessions and of the salaries of the players. If the public gives millions to a private business, particularly one that is profitable, then the public ought to have a piece of the ownership of that business.

The package, as it’s put forth on the ballot, is, as opponent Richard Tolbert says, “a sports tax election.” One, he added that “is about who pays for it — and the wrong people are being asked to pay for it.”

Tolbert also says, “that most people get nothing tangible (from Jackson County) for their tax money.” He’s basically correct. Most of the infrastructure and police and fire protection in the county are provided by the cities in the county. Except for service to outlying rural areas, the county parks system, property tax collection and the sports complex, Jackson County government is irrelevant to most county residents.

Tolbert and other opponents — to their credit — also make the moral and ethical arguments against these proposals as they are presented.

“It is not a government responsibility to provide for our entertainment,” Tolbert says.. “It is evil for the well-to-do to expose a tax on people who can’t met their needs. This proposal suffered from a lack of good, hard bargaining.”

The proponents have promised a Super Bowl, an All-Star game, maybe the Final Four and more restrooms. They haven’t promised lower ticket prices, cheaper beer or championship teams.

The opponents just ask for a better deal for the public.

The vote will be decided by what’s fair or the fear of losing out. Altruism aside, this vote, like every tax vote, is one of self-interest. Also, like always, picking what’s a priority to spend tax dollars on affects the community as a whole.

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at


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