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Drug Tax Renewed in Missouri County


December 1995

On November 7, Jackson County, Missouri voters overwhelmingly agreed to continue levying a controversial and unique sales tax to pay for anti-drug programs.

In 1989, Jackson County voters approved a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax to fund anti-drug programs -- the only such tax in the country. Despite early mismanagement, the Community Backed Anti-Drug Tax (COMBAT) now generates $14 million for anti-drug activities. About $9 million of this money goes to law enforcement, and $5 million to prevention and treatment programs (Glenn E. Rice and Gromer Jeffers, Jr., "Drug Tax's Effectiveness, Future at Issue," Kansas City Star, October 7, 1995, p. A-1; Karen Brown, "A Powerful Weapon in the War on Drugs," Kansas City Star, October 8, 1995, p. L-1).

Critics point out that there has been no independent evaluation of the tax. Currently, the National Institute of Justice is conducting a study on COMBAT, but that evaluation may not be ready for another two years.

Management of revenue from the tax has also been attacked. All of the members of the allocation committee work for organizations that benefit from the tax, creating what some see as a conflict of interest. Critics also say that many people who were hired with the drug funds are relatives of tax fund administrators and politicians.

The November 7 vote renewed the tax for another seven years starting in 1997. The original allocation committee will be replaced with a COMBAT Commission of appointed members, all of whom get no funding from the tax.

Supporters of the tax point to rising drug arrests as a sign of the tax's helpfulness to law enforcement. In 1986, only 45 drug cases were filed in the county. In 1994, that number had risen to 1,400. 300 people were incarcerated in the county jail in 1994, compared to 60 in 1986. Police have shut down 1,266 drug houses in the county since 1989, and drug-related crime has reportedly dropped by 15 percent since 1992.

In addition, supporters say that the drug tax funds programs that the county would not be able to afford otherwise -- drug courts, grassroots and neighborhood organizing, and prevention programs.