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Sedgwick County Arena Sales Tax Ready to Pass

Following is a message from Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director Kansas Taxpayers Network, regarding the debate over SB 58, allowing Sedgwick County to raise its sales tax to pay for the downtown Wichita arena. I listened to the (as Karl rightly characterises it) “debate.” Karl’s reporting of the legislative action and the effects the sales tax will have is accurate. (Someone called the sales tax the “Western Butler County Improvement Act.”)


After a relatively brief and lackluster debate, the 1 cent sales tax hike for the downtown arena in Wichita received preliminary approval in the Kansas house March 21 on a voice vote. SB 58 will be voted upon for final action tomorrow in the Kansas House of Representatives. This odious bill should have been amended but a bipartisan group of Wichita legislators worked hard and were successful in keeping it “clean” so there weren’t any amendments. An amendment would have required a conference committee and a delay in enacting this tax. SB 58 will be passed easily and signed by the governor within the next couple of weeks.

The closest amendment to getting added to this bill was a “prevailing wage,” amendment offered by Democrat Minority Leader McKinney that failed on a division vote (no roll call) with over 40 yes votes. Prevailing wage would require union wages for the construction of this project but even the Democrats did not press this very hard since they did not even bother forcing a roll call vote on this amendment.

After some desultory comments by proponents, Rep. Huebert offered an amendment to address the uniformity issue but then withdrew it following Rep. Wilk’s opposition and promise that the tax committee that Wilk chairs would take up this issue shortly.

Your tax dollars were hard at work lobbying. Two tax funded lobbyists from Sedgwick County along with Sen. Carolyn McGinn were there to follow the vote. Wichita had its contract lobbyist as well as city employee Jeanne Goodvin was there. Other tax funded organizations like Ed Wolverton from the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, Bob Hanson from the Sports Commission, and another sports commission board member Joe Johnston had lobbied the house members as they entered the chamber. A number of other business and labor lobbyists supporting the arena were also monitoring the desultory debate.

Huebert was the only member to oppose the bill during this “debate.” Steve spoke about his district’s opposition (2-to-1) and how this vote, where the county segment was opposed while the Wichita area was supportive (both voted 54-46 on their respective sides last November) might relate to a consolidation of government bill in Shawnee County’s vote on their city-county consolidation issue. The retroactive tax authorization WAS NOT EVEN MENTIONED in the debate.

Steve Brunk, who serves on the tax committee, “carried” the bill on the floor. Mario Goico, Brenda Landwehr, Jo Ann Pottorff, and Nile Dillmore all praised this measure in a form of Sedgwick County bipartisanship. Goico liked the eco-devo aspect while Pottorff praised the downtown revitalization with the waterwalk boondoggle for economic growth.

I have been told privately that there has been commitments for vote trading on this issue and other issues coming before the house that are of concern to non-Sedgwick County legislators. While there will certainly be a number of no votes cast on final action tomorrow, the final outcome is now clear. July 1 the sales tax rate in Sedgwick County will rise to 7.3% with the exception of Derby where it will rise to 7.8%. In a couple of years there will be a brand new pigeon coop, that lacks an anchor tenant, in downtown Wichita to add to the succession of money losing boondoggles that already litter the area.

If the Senator Hensley’s of the world prevail (he is the senate minority leader who issued his statewide tax hike plan last week), the 2005 legislature will soon pass a statewide sales tax hike and he would add at least another .2% to the figures cited in the previous sentence. The governor favors a statewide tax hike and there is talk of “rounding up” to say, an even 6 percent statewide. If that happens, there are parts of this state that will have total (state and local)sales tax rates approaching 10 percent.

The new millionaires who will be created through the prices the county will pay for the land it wants downtown for this boondoggle project will provide an interesting (but expensive) source of amusement in the near future too. It will also be interesting to see what portion of the construction labor used is “union” versus non union. Dale Swenson praised prevailing wage and other mandatory union wage rates like the federal government’s Davis-Bacon Act during the debate on that amendment.

As a frame of reference, New York City has a 8.625% sales tax rate. New York City does NOT tax groceries. I’ll let you decide, regardless of whether Kansas raises state rates or not, how we compare with a sales tax rate of 7.3%-or as much as-8.0%. If one of the tax raising legislators had not taken ill in the senate, the odds of a statewide tax hike raising the sales tax to 6.0% is not out of the question. Sedgwick County will have a high sales tax rate.

The only suggestion for Sedgwick County taxpayers that I can think of is that most of the cities in Butler County only have a 1/2 cent local sales tax, so their total is 5.8%. If you live in eastern Sedgwick County and want to save on grocery purchases, there is a Dillons at Andover Road and Kellogg. You should be able to save $1.50 on the purchase of $100 worth of groceries after July 1 based upon the variable local sales tax rates between Sedgwick and Butler counties.

I look forward to fulfilling my promise and including the recorded vote on final passage of SB 58 into the 2005 Kansas Taxpayers Network’s vote rating. Every legislator who cast an affirmative vote for SB 58 will have to bear some responsiblity for this looming boondoggle. The next battle will be trying to get this odious sales tax removed because a fiscal “crisis” in government will certainly appear before this tax expires. Rep. Huy was absent.

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