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Missouri Supreme Court Strikes Down 2022 Vote on KC Police Funding

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The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday took the unusual step of striking down a 2022 voter-approved constitutional amendment that required Kansas City to spend a larger percentage of its money on the police department, and ordered that the issue go back before voters in November.

The ruling overturns a ballot measure approved by 63% of voters in November 2022. It required the city to spend 25% of general revenue on police, up from the previous 20% requirement.

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Democratic Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas filed suit in 2023, alleging that voters were misled because the ballot language used false financial estimates in the fiscal note summary.

The lawsuit stated that Kansas City leaders had informed state officials prior to the November 2022 election that the ballot measure would cost the city nearly $39 million and require cuts in other services. But the fiscal note summary stated that “local governmental entities estimate no additional costs or savings related to this proposal.”

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State Supreme Court Judge Paul C. Wilson wrote that the ruling wasn’t about whether Kansas City adequately funds its police.

“Instead, the only issue in this case is whether the auditor’s fiscal note summary – the very last thing each and every voter saw before voting “yes” or “no” on Amendment No. 4 – fairly and accurately summarized the auditor’s fiscal note …,” Wilson wrote. “This Court concludes it did not and, therefore, orders a new election on this question to be conducted as part of the statewide general election on November 5, 2024.”

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Lucas responded on X by stating that the 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,. This is an important decision standing up for the rights of cities and their people.”

Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who is running for governor, wrote on X that while Lucas “went to Court to defund the police, I will never stop fighting to ensure the KC police are funded.”

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Former Missouri Supreme Court Judge Michael Wolff said the ruling was unusual. But Wolff said that state statutes have no provisions allowing interested parties to see the wording of the fiscal note summary prior to an election.

“The only time you can do it is in a post-election challenge,” Wolff said. “So either you have no remedy at all or you have the remedy that the court gave them.”

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Kansas City is the only city in Missouri — and one of the largest cities in the U.S. —- that does not have local control of its police department. Instead, a state board oversees the department’s operations, including its budget.

State lawmakers passed a law earlier in 2022 to require the budget increase but feared it would violate the state constitution’s unfunded mandate provision. The ballot measure was meant to resolve any potential conflict.

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Republican leaders and Kansas City officials have sparred over police funding in recent years. In 2021, Lucas and other city leaders unsuccessfully sought to divert a portion of the police department’s budget to social service and crime prevention programs. GOP lawmakers in Jefferson City said the effort was a move to “defund” the police in a city with a high rate of violent crime.

Kansas City leaders maintained that raising the percentage of funding for police wouldn’t improve public safety. In 2023, the year after the amendment passed, Kansas City had a record number of homicides.

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Photo: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas in 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Copyright 2024 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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