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Missouri Supreme Court confirms August vote on Kansas City police funding

Kansas City Police work the scene of a homicide on June 14, 2023 on College Avenue near 74th Street.
Carlos Moreno
The Kansas City Police Department is the only state-controlled police agency in Missouri. Amendment 4 required Kansas City to increase its police funding.

Missouri voters will weigh in — again — on whether Kansas City must increase funding to its police department on Aug. 6, following a decision from the state supreme court.

In an amended ruling issued Tuesday, the Missouri Supreme Court ordered Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft to “take all actions necessary to effect this remedy, and notice of the special election is to be given as if the proposal were going before the voters for the first time.”

In 2022, voters passed Amendment 4, the ballot measure that required Kansas City to increase its police funding from 20% to 25% of its general revenue.

The latest ruling updates a late April decision from the Missouri Supreme Court to throw out the results of Amendment 4. At the time, the court ordered a new election for Nov. 5 and included new language for the ballot measure.

The court said the state auditor’s fiscal note summary that accompanied the ballot question was inaccurate and so misleading to voters that the only remedy was to redo the election in November.

But Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, announced last week that the ballot measure would appear on the August ballot instead, along with other constitutional amendments. Ashcroft then certified the ballot question for Aug. 6, 10 weeks from now.

Mayor Lucas, who asked the court on May 31 to block Ashcroft from putting the amendment on the August ballot, said Tuesday, “we understand and respect the rule of law in our country.”

“We continue to appreciate the court’s ruling in favor of Mayor Lucas, local control for the people of Kansas City, and fair election. We also respect the court’s rewording issued today, which now makes the Secretary’s prior unlawful action all good,” he posted on X.

In his motion last week, Lucas argued that Ashcroft, a Republican, acted prematurely and in “direct defiance” of the state supreme court’s decision.

In Tuesday’s ruling, the court clarified that when the governor and secretary of state set the election date for Aug. 6, no mandate had been issued and the court’s April 30 opinion was not final.

“As a matter of comity and to accommodate the governor’s apparent desire to have the question decided on that date, one of those modifications is to change the date of the special election now called by this Court from November 5 to August 6, 2024,” the court opinion states.

The court clarified that it did not decide whether Gov. Parson had the authority to move the date of a “remedial ‘special election.’”

The 2022 election followed a state law that called on Kansas City to increase its police funding. Kansas City is the only major city that does not control its own police force — but the state legislature could not mandate city spending without putting it before voters.

Voters passed it with 63% statewide, though the Kansas City portion of Jackson County rejected it by 61%.

In his May filing, Lucas also challenged the Supreme Court’s wording of the new ballot question, arguing that the court’s language would suggest that the state law that triggered Amendment 4, and ultimately forced Kansas City to increase its police funding, can retroactively be enforced. The court denied Lucas’s motion to modify the language.

The ballot language for Amendment 4, which voters will see in August, will read:

“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.”

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