Clay Chastain returns (again)

Nathan Zoschke

Clay Chastain may be one of the most civically-invested ex-Kansas Citians; he now resides deep in the Virginia foothills.

In Kansas City, where voting on light rail proposals has become something of a biannual municipal rite, eight light rail plans have been either rejected or determined completely unfeasible since 1998, including six Chastain-led proposals.

Given the outcome of previous efforts, Chastain would likely be on his way to No. 7, except that City Hall rejected his most recent petition even though it had enough sigantures and met the requirements to be on the ballot.

Chastain is currently suing to override the objection and put his initiative on the November ballot.

The rationale of the city’s objection was the outcome of a 2006 Chastain proposal, the one light rail plan that actually won voter support at the polls.

The problem: it was completely unworkable according to city officials. The city rejected the plan due to its logistical impracticality and use of funds from an existing bus tax, which is prohibited by federal law.

Chastain took the city to court, and the ruling upheld Kansas City’s decision.

The most recent petition, circulated last year, was rejected by the city on the grounds that it’s unconstitutional because it lacks a proper funding mechanism.

The 1/4 –cent, 25 year sales tax in the proposal is not expected to generate sufficient revenue.

The $2.5 billion proposal would build 22 miles of light rail between the Kansas City International Airport and Waldo.

The current state of the city’s budget has also been a factor for some light rail opponents. If it were built, the Chastain light rail would likely require a multi-million dollar per year subsidy from the city’s general fund, which has suffered five years of little-to-no revenue growth in what has been described as one of the “most prolonged and impactful recessions in city history” by City Manager Troy Schulte.

Faced with limited funds to invest in infrastructure improvements, Mayor Sly James has asked voters to approve $1 billion in bonds to fund needed repairs.

The city has offered contract buyouts to 105 firefighters as a way to reduce personnel expenditures, drawing heavy opposition.

[email protected]