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PRO: Transformation is good for Jefferson City

PRO: Transformation is good for Jefferson City

January 22nd, 2012 in News

Gus Wagner, Transform Jefferson City campaign manager, has responded to a list of questions, compiled by the News Tribune, on behalf of the campaign. Below are Wagner's responses, along with rebuttals from the Citizens for Fair Tax opposition group.

The final question asked of each group was what they would ask the opposing group. Those questions are answered by Ed Williams of Citizens for Fair Tax.

Q: What is your view on the "Transform Jefferson City" campaign and why?

A: We, the 400 volunteers and dozens of other endorsers, believe saying yes to the half-cent economic development sales tax is good for the people of Jefferson City. This investment will mean a $50 million, 10-year investment in a citizen-designed and citizen-managed roadmap of 30 projects that will improve our quality of place, secure the city's long-term economic vitality and be the catalyst for revitalizing our community's core. This is the culmination of 18 months of research and conversation about how to make our community a better place today and - more importantly - tomorrow for our residents, employers and visitors.

Citizens for Fair Tax rebuttal: The 400 people and endorsers organized by the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce are out of touch with the other 50,000 people in Jefferson City. The steering committee members are executives, not regular citizens. The economic elite is not aware of the challenges facing middle- and low-income citizens, but is willing to increase sales taxes on us to roughly 9 percent. Citizen "designed and managed" is not incorrect, but citizen "paid for" is accurate. Four increases since 2005 and three more in 2012 are too much.

Q: If passed, how would a new 10-year half-cent sales tax affect the city, residents and those who shop in the area?

A: The multi-generational impact of this tax would include more conveniences, opportunities and more people choosing to make Jefferson City their preferred place to live, work and spend money. Within five years, residents would benefit from the completion of a majority of the more than $40 million investment into infrastructure and redevelopment. Residents and visitors over the next 10 years would pay an additional half-cent per dollar on all taxable items purchased within the city limits.

Citizens for Fair Tax rebuttal: Most of the tax money would be spent on a meeting center that would never pay for itself or bring professional people to live in Jefferson City. Few events would be held benefiting Jefferson City residents. Some of the 30 projects could be of some value, but should be considered individually, not in one huge proposal. An economic downturn is not the time to increase taxes to build conveniences. A roughly 9 percent tax would motivate people to shop elsewhere such as the Internet. Our merchants do not need any price increase to drive people elsewhere.

Q: What do you believe is the longterm economic impact of the sales tax, if passed?

A: We can improve our quality of place by taking advantage of the unique projects we will leverage. The sales tax will end in 10 years, but the Transformation initiative will help improve our community for its residents for generations. Increased opportunities for Downtown and Old Town residences, the possibility of more learning opportunities at an expanded Lincoln University, the protection of our town's second largest tourist attraction - MSP - in addition to the implementation of the 27 other projects will earn Jefferson City's place at the forefront of Midwestern communities where people and employers will want to live and do business.

Citizens for Fair Tax rebuttal:Mid-Missouri residents will have $40 million less to spend on themselves. Any improvements to Downtown and Old Town buildings should be shouldered by the owners, not taxpayers. A roughly 9 percent sales tax will make shoppers for automobiles and other big purchases go elsewhere to receive a lower price. Few residents will benefit from MSP as a tourist attraction. In 10 years, voters will be asked to continue the roughly 9 percent tax as has been the case in the county. Voters should not be distracted from the $10 million in addition to lodging tax money for a convention center.

Q: The Transformation initiative has often focused on attracting and keeping young professionals in the area. Do you believe what is being proposed will achieve that goal? Why or why not?

A: We know not all young professionals who work here choose to live here or continue their careers here. So, we invited them to the table and their ideas helped shape the Transformation roadmap of projects. Plus, hYPe, the city's young professionals group, and START, an initiative connecting students with internship opportunities, are groups that sprung from the Transformation process. hYPe has grown to nearly 400 young professionals who are taking a more active role in their community. At START's first 2012 event this week, 50 interns signed up to be involved in local activities where the goal is to showcase Jefferson City as the place to start and continue their professional lives.

Citizens for Fair Tax rebuttal: Apparently we have a lot of young professionals who are here now - at least 400. They were not attracted by anything to do with Transformation because it does not yet exist, Tourist attractions and a convention center create low-paying restaurant and motel jobs, not high paying professional jobs. There is no connection between anything in Transformation and highly paid people coming to Jefferson City. People move to a city because jobs are available with good schools and good living conditions their next considerations.

Q: Why is the Transformation initiative a good or bad concept?

A: "Of the people, by the people and for the people" is the foundation of government most of us believe is best. The Transformation process is a good concept because it came about from ideas of the people, was then discussed and vetted by the people (400 volunteers), with the main purpose of improving the quality of place and economic vitality for the people of Jefferson City for years to come.

Citizens for Fair Tax rebuttal: The concept to improve the city is acceptable, but due diligence is lacking. For example, no one seems to be aware that none of the cityowned convention centers anywhere pay for themselves. Harrisburg, Pa., has a convention center and is now in bankruptcy. Why would ours be any different? Very few voters have information to make an informed judgment on all 30 projects. Good judgment is the most important need on any issue. It is lacking on Transformation.

Q: Do you feel the fivemember economic development tax board (consisting of one appointed by the Jefferson City Public Schools, three appointed by Mayor Eric Struemph and one appointed by the Cole County Commission) is an appropriate governing body for the tax? How would the board provide adequate safeguards or why wouldn't it?

A: With the successful passage of the ballot question, the Jefferson City Transformation Economic Development Tax Board also will be created. The five voting members will be citizens who will bring professional experience and insight to their new roles. The board will conduct all bidding, vetting and decision making in public meetings, and have those decisions supported or rejected by the elected City Council. The structure of the citizen board, and the ability of the council to appoint additional non-voting members who may have additional needed experience, is an ideal system of accountability and transparency.

Citizens for Fair Tax rebuttal: The number one question is whether to increase the sales tax to roughly 9 percent or not. The chamber would find ways to spend it in the way they see fit. The unelected board would decide how the money is spent as other boards do now. We know that the current City Council and any board they would appoint would be a tool of the chamber and not the people. The majority of council members are chamber members. Decisions would be in favor of chamber members - not the people. The sales tax of roughly 9 percent is an example.

Q: Should taxpayers or developers be the driving force behind the projects outlined in the economic development sales tax and why?

A: Citizens who are taxpayers are the driving force behind the 30 projects laid out in the Transformation roadmap. These projects were ideas that were generated and vetted by 10 volunteer working groups composed of more than 400 volunteers. This citizen-driven and citizen-designed list of projects will be the roadmap to those serving on the economic development tax board and City Council as they determine which projects should be developed and when. Consultants, contractors or developers will be involved as necessary and at the discretion of the taxpayers on the board.

Citizens for Fair Tax rebuttal: Private developers are less likely to waste their own money on white elephant projects than government bureaucrats spending citizens' hard-earned tax dollars. If a convention center is such a big need, why doesn't someone with money and experience, such as John Q. Hammons or some of the chamber businessmen, jump at the opportunity? Why must our sales taxes be increased to roughly 9 percent? The answer is that there is not a big need, but an out-of-touch chamber wants a regressive tax that, at best, benefits them with no risk to themselves.

Q: What questions would you ask those who oppose your view?

Transform Jefferson City campaign: What solutions do you propose to make Jefferson City a place where your children and grandchildren can prosper?

Citizens for Fair Tax answer:

The regressive sales tax should be reduced. An roughly 9 percent sales tax is too high. As the United States economy continues to improve, local government and industries will increase employment. Efforts should be made to attract additional jobs. Elementary and high schools should be continually upgraded. A community college program such as State Fair could make higher and technical education more available and affordable. The $350,000 of taxpayers' money given to the Chamber of Commerce for economic development should be used to create an independent office or contracted by bid to Price Waterhouse or some other economic development firm.

Transform Jefferson City campaign: If the sales tax fails at the ballot and the Transformation projects fail to materialize, are you comfortable with the rapidly declining status quo in terms of population, infrastructure and unrealized potential for Jefferson City?

Citizens for Fair Tax answer:

In the 30 years I have lived here, I have not noticed any great decline except in employment due to recession. The city has expanded population from about 35,000 to about 50,000 partly due to annexation. Numerous buildings have opened in the West Edgewood area for example and a second Walmart has been built. I can think of one factory that closed, but Scholastic has expanded and others such as Command Web have opened. Infrastructure can always be improved, but coupling 30 projects together as a take-itall-or-leave-it-all is a mistake.

Transform Jefferson City campaign: How would you propose to stem the rapid dilapidation of the Missouri State Penitentiary site, the loss of property value in Old Town, and prevent the soon-to-be vacant St. Mary's campus from being an empty scar in the heart of our community?

Citizens for Fair Tax answer:

Potential problem properties are not by any means at a point of desperation. Before Schnucks opened, the company looked for 20 years for an acceptable site. Many areas of Jefferson City could use tax money, but taxpayers simply should not pay for improvements to private property. The resurgence of Old Munichburg demonstrates that other solutions are available to older parts of town, but using a roughly 9 percent sales tax as a bailout by taxpayers is not a good idea. The potential problems listed will not affect very many Jefferson City taxpayers, but everyone would have to pay the tax.