Chamber of Commerce board votes to support sales tax initiative

WICHITA, Kansas - The push to get a one-cent sales tax approved in Wichita got a boost Monday from business leaders at the city Chamber of Commerce, whose board of directors voted to support the initiative.

“As long as we can demonstrate a good return on that investment to the citizens of Wichita, then it’s important for us to have more resources to really be in the game and be more competitive,” Gary Plummer, the chamber president, said. “It’s a jobs war, and we want to be in that battle.”

A majority of the almost 40 board members voted to support the sales tax measure, but it was not a unanimous vote, Chamber officials said. The exact totals were not released.

Earlier this year, Chamber leadership pushed for a fund to give incentives to businesses that create jobs in Wichita to be tacked on to the city’s $400 million sales tax proposal, raising around $80 million. It’s that jobs fund that is the sticking point for opponents.

“We don’t want government picking winners and losers,” Jennifer Baysinger, of the Coalition for a Bettter Wichita, which is against the initiative, said. “We don’t want government taking money out of the pockets of families and giving it to select businesses.”

The coalition, supported by Koch Industries, says some of their members are also Chamber board members who voted against supporting the tax, saying they want to know more about what will be done with the money.

“There are people within the group that oppose different pieces of the tax for different reasons,” Baysinger said. “Overall, I keep hearing the same sentiment. There’s no plan. People don’t know what the plan is. It has not clearly been laid out.”

If the sales tax is approved, the City Council would appoint a committee to oversee the jobs fund, determining which opportunities to pursue. Although business leaders appear divided, Plummer says the time to act is now.

“We just think that we can’t afford to sit idly by and be satisfied with the status quo,” he said. “We have to try some new approaches, and we have to have the resources to do them effectively.”

Both sides of the issue said they are ramping up their outreach to Wichita voters, who will have to decide on this in the November election.

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