Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Lawrence sales tax questions pass overwhelmingly

On Election Day, Lawrence residents approved three special citywide sales taxes for infrastructure, transit and affordable housing.

On Election Day, Lawrence residents approved three special citywide sales taxes for infrastructure, transit and affordable housing.

November 7, 2017


Lawrence voters approved all three of the sales tax questions in Tuesday’s general election, lining up millions of dollars in revenue annually for transit, infrastructure and affordable housing.

All three of the sales tax questions — totaling 0.55 percent and projected to generate $116 million over a 10-year period — were approved with comfortable margins, winning about 70, 73 and 62 percent of the vote.

Mayor Leslie Soden said the election results were important positive feedback from voters.

“I think that it leads to participatory budgeting, which is something I’ve been really interested in,” Soden said. “I think it’s really important for us as elected officials to get that kind of feedback back from voters that, yes, they do want us to continue funding the bus; yes, they do want us to put more money toward affordable housing.”

The 0.3 percent sales tax for infrastructure, 0.2 percent sales tax for transit operations and the 0.05 percent sales tax for affordable housing will be in place for 10 years. The affordable housing sales tax is the only tax that didn’t currently exist. The infrastructure and transit operations sales taxes are in place currently, but they were scheduled to sunset in 2019. The affordable housing tax will take the place of a transit capital improvements tax that would otherwise have expired in 2019.

Commissioner Lisa Larsen, who herself won re-election with overwhelming support Tuesday, also said the results of the sales tax questions show that voters are committed to funding those services.

“What we’re seeing on the sales tax result is an indication that the citizens of Lawrence want to support infrastructure, they want to support transit, they want to support affordable housing,” Larsen said.

The closest contest was for the affordable housing portion, which was approved with 62 percent of the vote. The affordable housing sales tax is projected to generate about $10.5 million total for affordable housing between 2019 and 2029.

The faith group Justice Matters, which includes representatives from several local religious congregations, was a vocal supporter of the sales tax to support affordable housing. Justice Matters board member Steve Ozark said that he was ecstatic to know that Lawrence was behind the initiative to solve the city’s affordable housing problem. He said he saw the vote as an “exponential step” in addressing what was becoming a crisis in the community.

The affordable housing sales tax question received some community criticism because there is not a specific plan for how the money would be spent. Though, the city has pointed to recent projects with Habitat for Humanity and Tenants to Homeowners as examples of what the money can be spent on.

Larsen said she is committed to ensuring the money is well spent.

“It’s going to be up to us on the affordable housing issue to make sure that we are true to the voters and that the money is efficiently spent on affordable housing issues,” Larsen said. “And that’s going to be my goal is to be a watch dog for that.”

The infrastructure sales tax is projected to generate $63 million between 2019 and 2029 and will help fund infrastructure improvements and purchasing fire equipment. The transit sales tax is projected to generate about $42 million for transit operations during that time.

The sales tax renewals come at a time when property taxes and utility bills are also on the rise. Between the city, county and school district, Lawrence residents are facing one of the largest increases in recent years. In total, residents will see a property tax increase next year of about 6.67 mills: 1.25 mills from the city, 1.916 mills from the county and 3.5 mills from the school district.

One local group, the Lawrence Sunset Alliance, came out against the sales tax renewals. One of the group’s main criticisms is that sales tax is regressive and that the burden of overall taxes continues to increase. Though disappointed by Tuesday’s election results, group leaders said they are glad that the community engaged in a serious conversation about the sales tax renewals and that it's a discussion that will continue.

“It’s an ongoing discussion about priorities and budget, and we’ll be involved in that,” said LSA treasurer Patrick Wilbur. “It doesn’t end tonight.”


Jeremy Smith 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Well looks like I will do as much shopping as possible outside of the city now. Sure 70% of voters approved the sale tax renewals and that just means that the commission could care less about the other 30%.

John Kyle 7 months, 2 weeks ago

So you would rather they ignore the 70% in favor of the 30%? When you're shopping in Topeka, buy me some tissues so I can wipe away these tears I'm crying for you.

Clark Coan 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Be sure to factor in the cost of driving to Topeka. The IRS has a standard mileage deduction for business at 54 cents/mile and if it is 50 miles round-trip, you are paying $27 every time you shop in Topeka. For big-ticket items it might be worth it, but not for little stuff. In other words, you have to spend at least $300 to make it worth the drive.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Since you have been shopping out of town already, because of the slightly over one half of one percent sales tax, then it probably won't change much of anything. But do your research. There are places that pay as much or more in sales tax than Lawrence pays, and some taxes like in the Legends don't even go to the community, because they are those special tax districts.

And I'm sure that the communities where you shop appreciate you supporting their community. Of course, you pay them taxes to support their town government and projects, but you don't actually get much back for it yourself. So you return here to Lawrence to enjoy the things we do in Lawrence without paying your fair share? Maybe you should move to those communities where you shop. I'll bet the property tax is cheeper too.

Jeremy Smith 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Dorothy, you assume I get much back from my local sales taxes right now as it is. Affordable housing, new fire equipment when all of it is fine, the T just gets in my way so in all I do not see a benefit to any of it. All the affordable housing will do is bring more scum from Topeka and KC to our town. Hope that works out for you

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Well, since this isn't a tax increase, and we will be paying the same sales tax as we have for the last several years, I assume you have been doing all your shopping out of town anyway, so why would it be a big loss for Lawrence?

Chase Blackwood 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Do you not understand how democracy works?

Paul Beyer 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Expected response from an uneducated, low IQ trump supporter. Simply lack the ability to think for themselves or realize what a disaster this administration is.

Chase Blackwood 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Haha @ me being a trump supporter.

My comment was directed at Jeremy, who seemingly does not understand that 70% of voters voting for a tax (and then the tax passing and going into effect) is how democracy works.

Expected more from you Paul (like the ability to read and understand a comment thread), I typically enjoy your comments on this site.

And another thing - if you're going to jump to ridiculous conclusions before taking 3 seconds to actually try and comprehend a situation (or do a little investigation - by reading any of my comments on this site it should be clear that I am not a trump supporter), you're just as bad as all of the dipsh*ts on here trolling you.

Mark Kostner 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I want to thank all of you who voted for those ballot questions. I don't live in Lawrence yet but I am planning to move there to retire. The appeal is of a city with a small footprint with good transit and my concern was housing costs on a fixed income.

Steve Jacob 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Just because we pay a bunch of money for transit does not mean it's "good".

P Allen Macfarlane 7 months, 2 weeks ago

It's better than what we had previously - nothing.

Jeremy Smith 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I agree. Back when I did not own a car, the T would never work out for me. It would take me over an hour to get to downtown from where I lived on the west side when it should have been only 20 minutes.

Richard Heckler 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Keep a close eye on this one:

"The 0.3 percent sales tax for infrastructure" This money is dedicated to nothing which means politicians can spend this as they choose IN SPITE of the language aka campaign rhetoric. Keep a close eye on the wallets.

Removing the sales tax on groceries should go up for discussion immediately. Perhaps even pushing for a special vote which would pay back the taxpayers.

Rick Masters 7 months, 2 weeks ago

No links? How am I supposed to take you seriously?

Bob Smith 7 months, 2 weeks ago

No links is better than a dozen links that we've all seen hundreds of time.

Clark Coan 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Due to the cost of driving to Topeka, you have to spend $300 to make it worth your while. The IRS allows a standard mileage deduction of $.54/mile and it is 50 miles round-trip, so you are paying $27 for each trip.

Cille King 7 months, 2 weeks ago

A google search says that sales tax is 9.15% in Topeka and 9.05% in Lawrence. So, if that is true, you wouldn't drive to Topeka to save sales tax. Kansas City, KS sales tax is 9.125%.

William Cummings 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Olathe, lenexa, and Ottawa are all higher than Lawrence. He is going to have to drive quite a ways to save a fraction of a penny on the dollar.

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