Lawrence city commissioners were smart to delay consideration of their first request to form a special taxing district to benefit a development near 23rd Street and Ousdahl Road.
A policy for how the city would utilize the new Community Improvement Districts approved by the Kansas Legislature last year got quick approval, but when the commission tried to apply that policy to a specific request to collect an additional 1 percent sales tax in the new district, public opposition was quick and strong. During discussion at Tuesday’s commission meeting, Mayor Mike Amyx concluded, “I think it is important to take a step back and explain this better.”
The question now is whether any amount of “explaining” is going to make local residents feel better about use of this economic development “tool” in Lawrence.
It’s easy to see why businesses find this incentive attractive. It basically allows them to sell everything in their stores for 1 or 2 percent more without having to actually raise the price that consumers see on the shelf. They can then spend that money on a whole variety of costs of doing business that their competitors have to cover without benefit of additional sales tax revenue.
It’s also understandable that, at least at first glance, city commissioners could be in favor of such a plan. It provides an incentive for businesses without placing any financial obligation on the city.
But the explanation local residents want to hear is why, as a matter of principle, private businesses should be allowed to collect a tax from the public — without any special notice — and use that money not for a public purpose, but to offset their private business costs.
Kansas legislators apparently thought that was OK, but Lawrence residents aren’t so sure. Perhaps city commissioners can explain it to the public’s satisfaction, but they haven’t done it yet.