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Sales Tax Defeated - Now What?

Sean Sandefur

Voters in Wichita have made their decision on a proposed one-cent sales tax. The referendum was defeated soundly, with “no” votes over 60 percent. KMUW 's Sean Sandefur has been following this story since it was first discussed by city council members and has this report . . .


On Tuesday night, election results roll across TV screens at the Hyatt in downtown Wichita--votes against the city's proposed one-cent sales tax grow and grow. At about 9:30 pm, Jon Rolph of Yes Wichita makes his remarks.

“Well, you guys are watching the results come in as I am. Officially, as a campaign, we are conceding the election. I just talked to representatives of the "No" coalition and congratulated them on their victory.”

Mayor Carl Brewer is in attendance and says this is how the democratic process works. He says the four areas of concern—a long-term water source, the bus system, street improvements and job creation—can’t be swept under the rug.

“From this standpoint, [city council] will come together and we will figure out exactly what can we pay for, figure out what those priorities are, review the information and we’ll start working on those types of things."

The sales tax would have been worth about $400 million over five years.

The most controversial aspect was the $80 million allotted for job creation. Jennifer Baysinger, who led the campaign against the sales tax, stated last month that the four areas shouldn’t have been lumped together.

“There are people who would've voted ‘yes’ on transit, but will not vote ‘yes’ on jobs, so they're going to vote ‘no’ for the whole package. City council should've come back and let us vote on each one of these items separately.”

Credit Sean Sandefur
Members of Coalition For a Better Wichita gather at Handy Mailing in West Wichita in July. The group is against the City of Wichita's proposed one-cent sales tax.

There was talk that the job creation portion would be left out, but Mayor Carl Brewer says he can’t be sure the decision to add job development led to the sales tax vote being unsuccessful.

"Citizens told us that jobs were important. You’d have to talk to the individuals that voted [against] it, as to why they didn’t want to invest in the jobs," Brewer says. "This was about diversifying what we actually have, and bringing new jobs to the city.”

Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, says the city will now have to move on with its efforts of job creation.

“How do we grow our economy so that our community grows? We’re seeing some growth, but how do we increase that?  What we’ve heard tonight is just an indication of how the community does or does not want to approach it."

"With that said, we'll continue to get up tomorrow morning and look at the common grounds. And that’s exactly what we’ll be doing.” 

Credit Sean Sandefur
Jon Rolph of Yes Wichita speaks to supporters during the election night watch party. The one-cent sales tax received less than 40 percent of the vote.

The city’s transit system would have also received a large portion of funding from the sales tax. The system is already running on reserve funds and city leaders warned of a 25 percent decrease in service if the sales tax failed. Councilwoman Janet Miller is at the Yes Wichita watch party and says a discussion over the future of the city’s bus system will have to begin soon. 

“I certainly feel it’s an essential public service. I don’t think there’s any question about that. We have two million riders a year, and we’d have even more if our system were adequately funded and adequately developed to serve our population. So, it’s an enormous concern.”

In a conversation prior to the election, City Manager Bob Layton said if the sales tax was unsuccessful, the backlogged list of street improvements would continue to grow.

But, he said the long-term water supply must be addressed.

“If a sales tax isn't approved, I will be making a recommendation to [council] that we seriously pursue a rate-based solution. I know that will have an impact on the rate payers, and a pretty significant one on some of our businesses. But what I'm hearing, is that they'd rather do that then not have a predictable water source going forward.”

Jon Rolph of Yes Wichita ended his concession speech saying it’s not a matter of "yes" or "no" anymore. It’s a time to reach out and mend any disagreements between city leaders and look towards Wichita’s future.