Kansas City Skyline during the day time.
Kansas City-area lawmakers wrapped up a legislative session, dictating the steps ahead for many of Kansas City's top priorities. (File photo)

Kansas City was the center of plenty of debate this year inside the Missouri legislature. Among the legislature’s many priorities, lawmakers fielded multiple proposals to raise the minimum amount of money the city must give its police department. They set aside federal dollars to attract new airlines to a newly rebuilt Kansas City International Airport. And they approved a plan to provide tax incentives if Kansas City is a host for the 2026 World Cup.

Lawmakers were also widely anticipated to pass a bill to legalize sports gambling in Missouri, but that didn’t happen. The inaction comes as Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly signed the state’s sports betting bill into law, with provisions to lure teams to the state. 

Despite a contentious few months, Missouri lawmakers advanced a record-breaking budget this year, topping $49 billion in spending and funding some programs for the first time in years. Thanks to federal coronavirus relief funds, the state will start fiscal year 2023 with a $1 billion surplus. As a part of those funds, the legislature also approved spending $500 million to award Missourians who earned less than $150,000 a tax credit of up to $500. 

KC police funding dominant topic throughout session

A 2021 attempt by Mayor Quinton Lucas and a majority of the Kansas City Council to gain more control over police department funding became a focus of controversy in Jefferson City this session. 

Kansas City is the only major U.S. city whose police department is run by a state-appointed board, rather than local elected officials. The city, however, is required by state statute to spend 20% of its budget on the department.  The council voted last year to require that any city funds above that amount should be spent on measures to prevent and reduce crime. A judge later ruled that officials didn’t have the authority to change the funding expectations because the budget had already been passed.

GOP legislators denounced the council’s measure as an attempt to “defund the police.” Several bills were proposed that local officials and Democratic lawmakers described as retaliatory. 

The one that passed was sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville. It would require the city to increase its funding for the police department from 20% of its general revenue to 25%. 

Under the bill, Kansas City would tack $65.2 million onto the KCPD budget for next year. The city recently passed its nearly $2 billion budget, which went beyond current state funding minimums by allocating $269 million to the KCPD. 

Luetkemeyer also sponsored a bill to put forward a constitutional amendment that would allow Missourians to vote in November on whether the legislature can increase minimum funding for police.

Lucas was in Washington, D.C., Friday with interim Police Chief Joseph Mabin, and reacted to the passage of the bills.

“I think it’s always important to have locally driven solutions to local problems,” he said from the White House. “I do not think, necessarily, that someone in outstate Missouri has better answers for policing than somebody in the core of Kansas City.”

Throughout the session, Luetkemeyer pointed to Lucas’ attempt to shift $42 million in police funding for expanded community programs. 

“I’d say the way that the budget was handled last year demonstrated the need for the legislature to revisit the funding threshold, it is certainly what prompted it,” Luetkemeyer said during debate. 

Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, told The Beacon in March that the interest in the police budget from across the aisle was antithetical to the Republican party’s ideals. 

“It feels like a big government mandate. It feels like a bill that GOP members should hate,” Arthur said. “It’s something that is being forced on Kansas City. And the goal is only to pass because it applies only to Kansas City and not to other parts of the state. So it’s been a little frustrating as someone representing the Kansas City area that this is being dictated to us.” 

Tax break plan meant to attract FIFA to host World Cup in Kansas City

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, sponsored a bill meant to incentivize the World Cup to choose Kansas City as at least one of its host cities by providing a sales tax exemption for all tickets sold for World Cup matches here. 

The state’s fiscal analysis of the proposal shows up to $2.5 million of lost revenue to the city, and city officials noted in the report that they assume the proposal will have a negative effect on the city’s pocketbook. But the analysis doesn’t account for revenue from hosting some of the series. 

Republican Rep. Jon Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, said during debate that the World Cup could generate up to $750 million in revenue for the state. 

Kansas City-area members lobbied for the exemption this session, citing fears of other cities enacting the provision and the metro getting passed over.

“The international airport would be finished by then. And that was really attractive,” Rep. Ingrid Burnett, D-Kansas City, said of Kansas City’s World Cup pitch. “We had a lot of things going for us…but failure to pass this would mean serious jeopardy.” 

“I think it would definitely hurt our chances,” Patterson said. 

Extra dollars set aside for bolstering international flights at KCI

After Kansas City lost its only transatlantic flight — to Reykjavik, Iceland — two years ago, officials were looking for ways to attract airlines back to the airport. 

Lawmakers designated $5 million for projects to recruit a new transatlantic flight.  The money would also be available to St. Louis Lambert International Airport if it came up with a plan to recruit an international carrier. (St. Louis recently raised $5 million in mostly private funds to secure direct service to Frankfurt, Germany.) 

The $5 million allocated by the legislature came from Missouri’s nearly $3 billion cut of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, which the U.S. Congress passed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Sports betting a no-go

Another major priority for Kansas City-area members this session was legalizing sports betting. Lawmakers came close to passing a proposal to do that, but ultimately couldn’t get it done.

In March the House advanced a bill to let Missourians 21 or older place sports wagers on college and professional competitions online or inside sports venues or casinos. The bets would be taxed at an 8% rate. Sports teams from across the state, including the Royals and Chiefs, lobbied for the move, which some estimates calculated would bring in $15 million in tax revenue for the state. 

The effort stalled in the Senate. Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, filibustered the Senate version of the bill because it did not include legalizing video gaming terminals, which resemble slot machines and are found around the state, but aren’t regulated. 

While Missouri failed to legalize sports wagering, Kansas succeeded with a similar measure. Sports betting will be allowed across the state line, with the state collecting a 10% cut of online or in-person bets.

The bill is expected to bring in $41 million in state revenue and will also establish the “Attracting Professional Sports to Kansas Fund,” which would set aside an undetermined amount of revenue to pay for bonds to attract sports teams. 

In Missouri, disappointed lawmakers pointed to a potential loss of revenue as neighboring states embrace sports betting. Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said he “might have to move to Kansas City” if the proposal was signed into law in Kansas. 

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MEG CUNNINGHAM is The Beacon’s Missouri Statehouse reporter. Previously, Meg worked as a national politics reporter for ABC News in Washington, D.C., where she covered campaigns and elections. Meg is...