County hopes voters say no on vehicle purchase tax

Jackson County voters are being asked to keep in place a sales tax on out-of-state vehicle purchases. It’s a sizable amount of revenue for the county, but officials stress that the bigger concern is creating an uneven playing field for local auto dealers and others if the tax goes away.

The issue is Jackson County Question No. 3 on the Nov. 8 ballot. Polls in Missouri are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The county’s 2016 budget is $305 million. The county would lose an estimated $3.8 million a year if the tax on the out-of-state purchase of vehicles, trailers, boats and outboard motors went away.

“We need it. We have many obligations out there that we must meet,” said County Legislature Chair Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City.

The county argues – as cities did when they put the issue to voters in August – that the real impact would be to local businesses and jobs if the tax were not retained.

Whatever voters decide, the tax paid on a car bought in Blue Springs or a boat bought in Independence will not change. As it stands today, if you buy that car on the Kansas side of the metro area, that dealer has to collect the tax and remit it to Jackson County. That can be hundreds of dollars on a new car.

If that goes away, however, officials argue that those dealers wouldn’t collect the tax and would have a significant competitive advantage, one they would likely play up. Over the long term, they say, it could mean the loss of jobs in Jackson County.

The ballot language can be confusing.

“Shall Jackson County discontinue applying and collecting the local sales tax on the titling of motor vehicles, trailers, boats, and outboard motors that were purchased from a source other than a licensed Missouri dealer?”

The second paragraph reads, “Approval of this measure will result in a reduction of local revenue for vital services for Jackson County and will place Missouri dealers of motor vehicles, outboard motors, boats and trailers at a competitive disadvantage with non-Missouri dealers of motor vehicles, outboard motors, boats and trailers.”

County officials are hoping for a no, which means the tax remains in place.

The issue has come up because of a Missouri Supreme Court ruling that the tax needs specific voter approval. Local officials also have said their hands are tied on the ballot language – asking for a “no” in order to affirmatively keep a tax – because that was written by the Missouri General Assembly,

Voters in Independence, Blue Springs, Grain Valley and other cities, as well as the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District, approved keeping the tax in August, as has been the case in hundreds of municipalities across the state this year.

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