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Missouri Supreme Court rules KCPD ballot question misled voters, orders redo election

A police officer walks on a street with his back to the camera. He is wearing a black vest with the yellow lettering  "Police" on it. There's a yellow "Do Not Cross" tape out of focus in the foreground and a police car with "KCPD" badge stamped on its door in the background.
Carlos Moreno
A ballot measure approved by voters in 2022 requires Kansas City to allocate 25% of its general revenue to the KCPD each year. A recent ruling from the Missouri Supreme Court orders a redo of that election.

Missouri will have to re-do its statewide vote on a constitutional amendment mandating more funding for Kansas City Police, after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the original ballot measure was so inaccurate that it “actually misled voters.”

The court ruled Tuesday that a new election is necessary because the Missouri Auditor’s fiscal note summary on the November 2022 ballot measure was “so materially misstated” that it casts doubt on the fairness of the vote and the validity of the results.

“The fiscal note summary in this case failed in its principal object to concisely and accurately advise voters of the fiscal impact of the proposal as set forth in the fiscal note,” the ruling stated. “Worse, the fiscal note summary actually misled voters by suggesting Amendment No. 4 would have no fiscal impact when the fiscal note identified a sizable one."

The court ordered a new statewide vote on the question for Nov. 5, 2024, and issued its own ballot title and fiscal summary.

"The Missouri Supreme Court sided with what is fair and just: the people of Kansas City’s voices should not be ignored in conversations about our own safety," Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas wrote on social media. "This is an important decision standing up for the rights of cities and their people."

Tuesday’s ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Lucas last year.

A bill passed by the Missouri General Assembly in 2022, and signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson, required Kansas City to increase the share of its general revenue that must be allocated to the KCPD every year — from 20% to 25%.

But because that law violated the “Hancock Amendment,” which prohibits unfunded state mandates of local actions, lawmakers also had to ask voters to approve an exception in the Missouri Constitution.

The original language, which appeared on the November 2022 ballot as Amendment 4, asked if the Missouri Constitution should be amended to authorize laws “that increase minimum funding for a police force established by a state board of police commissioners to ensure such police force has additional resources to serve its communities.”

The ballot measure did not explicitly name the KCPD, even though the results only applied to Kansas City. The KCPD is the only state-controlled police force in Missouri.

The original ballot measure in November 2022 passed with 63% of the vote. However, Kansas City voters in Jackson County rejected the question by 61%.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas responds to a question at a press conference Feb. 15, 2024, about the Chiefs parade shooting. Next to him are Fire Chief Ross Grundyson and Police Chief Stacey Graves.
Zach Perez
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas responds to a question at a press conference Feb. 15, 2024, about the Chiefs parade shooting, next to him are Fire Chief Ross Grundyson and Police Chief Stacey Graves.

At issue in this case was the fiscal note summary for the measure — which is the last thing that voters see before making their choice.

A fiscal note analyzes any governmental cost or savings that would come from a proposed ballot measure. The note is prepared by the Missouri Auditor, who must also write an accurate summary to appear on ballots.

Amendment 4’s fiscal note summary stated that “state and local governmental entities estimate no additional costs or savings related to this proposal.” However, that summary ignored the financial impact on Kansas City.

According to the ruling, Missouri Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick — who was named in the lawsuit — was informed by Kansas City that Amendment 4 would have a “negative fiscal impact,” to the tune of about $38.7 million per year.

Kansas City officials told the auditor that increasing the city’s mandatory funding for police would decrease its funding for other services funded by general revenue, which includes road and infrastructure maintenance, fire services and other municipal programs.

The auditor’s fiscal note included a response from the KCPD and the Board of Police Commissioners, which argued that Kansas City’s 20% funding mandate was not enough for the department to “police the city properly.”

Kansas City has regularly funded the police department well above the 20% minimum.

However, voters who showed up to the polls in November 2022 saw none of that information included in the auditor’s fiscal note summary. The Supreme Court found that means the summary was “both materially inaccurate and seriously misleading,” to the point that it “cast doubt on the validity” of the election.

In his lawsuit, Lucas enlisted the help of a public opinion researcher who polled Missourians who voted in the 2022 general election. “This expert opined that a majority of voters likely would have rejected the amendment had they been told the measure would have a negative fiscal impact on the City,” the court’s ruling said.

For the November 2024 election, Missouri voters will see a ballot measure with a title and fiscal note summary written by the Missouri Supreme Court. Unlike the previous iteration, the new version mentions both the KCPD and the financial impact:

“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to authorize laws, passed before December 31st, 2026, that increase minimum funding for a police force established by a state board of police commissioners to ensure such police force has additional resources to serve its communities?

This would authorize a law passed in 2022 increasing required funding by the City of Kansas City for police department requests from 20% of general revenue to 25%, an increase of $38,743,646, though the City previously provided that level of funding voluntarily. No other state or local governmental entities estimate costs or savings.”

Kansas City is the only major city in the U.S. that does not have local control over its police department. Instead, the unusual governance structure means the KCPD answers to the state directly, through a five-member police board, in which the Missouri governor appoints four members. The fifth member is the mayor of Kansas City.

State control, a system that has its roots stretching back to Missouri’s pro-slavery Civil War days, means Kansas City’s elected officials cannot set department policy or discipline officers. That falls under the purview of the police board.

The Kansas City Council can only go so far as rubber stamping the department’s annual budget, which from 1958-2022 required the city to allocate at least 20% of its general revenue to the department.

Efforts led by Lucas and a majority of council members in 2021 to establish oversight of a portion of the KCPD’s budget were later struck down by a court. That attempt so angered Republicans that it triggered the bill in the Missouri legislature the following year mandating the city to increase its police funding.

Kansas City Council recently approved a $320.8 million budget for the KCPD for the 2024-2025 fiscal year, the most of any city department.

“I have always and will continue to support our public safety and the Kansas City Police Department," Lucas said in a statement. "Just last month I signed a budget giving every single KCPD officer a raise, increasing starting salaries from $50,000 up to $65,000, and exceeding KCPD’s personnel funding request. I have been proud to support and pass budget increases consistently during my tenure and look forward to continuing to do so."

The court’s latest ruling does not impact or make a judgment on state control of the KCPD, although other lawsuitshave been filed challenging that system. Most recently, three Black women filed a federal lawsuit alleging that state control of Kansas City Police is "an effort to keep slavery legal and Black people in chains."

Celisa Calacal is a government and politics reporter at KCUR in Kansas City.