The Wichita Independent Business Association hosted a debate on Tuesday over Wichita's one-cent sales tax referendum. The tax will be featured on November’s ballot and if passed, would help expand the city's water supply, as well as fund transit, street improvements and job creation.
The tax is worth roughly $400 million over five years. The lion’s share is intended for the city’s future water supply, but the most controversial part of the referendum has been the $80 million allotted for job creation.
Jennifer Baysinger is with Coalition For a Better Wichita, an organization which opposes the sales tax. She says she understands the importance of water and transit, but thinks the jobs portion is nothing more than an incentive program, which she says hasn’t worked in other cities.
“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,” Baysinger says. “City council should come back and let us vote on each one of these items separately.”
Jon Rolph represented Yes Wichita, a group of small business owners who support the tax. He says the time for Wichita to act on job creation is now, and he believes in the city's plan to grow jobs.
“This is about being competitive,” he says. “The cities around us: Oklahoma City, Des Moines, Omaha—cities that were traditionally behind us—are now in front of us and running away at a very fast pace. We have to address that, and we have to address diversifying this economy. It’s the number one thing. And that’s what this jobs plan is all about.”
The city plans to use the job creation money on infrastructure for both new and existing businesses, as well as job training through secondary education.