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An Argument against Raising the Sales Tax

A Chronicle editorial made a call in tacit support of a county sales tax raise yesterday. The Concurrent opposes a raise in the sales tax as we’ll explain in today’s column.

Any raise would need to pass as a ballot measure with at least 50% support from voters.

This is unlikely to happen, but since one current county commissioner was publicly in favor on the campaign trail and the paper has now raised the issue again, it’s worth revisiting the reasons why the tax is a bad idea.

The topic of road resurfacing is not unique to Citrus County nor is it ever going away no matter how many roads are repaved. There is still much room for improvement, however, the perception of road resurfacing is worse than the reality of road resurfacing right now.

As unpopular as this opinion may be to the residents of Citrus Springs, there are numbers to support this assertion. Prior to a significant reshaping of the BOCC in November 2016, the county was allocating about $2 million per year to roads.

Spending has increased, and at times doubled, when former commissioners Brian Coleman and Jimmie T. Smith as well as then-newly elected commissioner Jeff Kinnard, all joined the board.

It bears repeating: more needs to be done. The argument here is not that the problem is solved. The assertion is that the perception is worse than the reality.

We are still hearing from the people who have not seen an improvement, which is a shrinking number of people but whose voices are getting justifiably louder as the problem continues unaddressed. The numbers don’t lie though. Progress is being made.

The reason why it’s important to recognize this fact even in the face of anecdotal evidence to the contrary as the public continues to lament the problem is because that anger at perceived inaction makes it easier into selling voters that a raise in the sales tax is the only solution to the problem.

The Chronicle’s editorial makes the claim that often anchors the refrain of those who support tax increases. This is that Citrus County’s sales tax rate is lower than others in Florida and this is a reason we should raise ours.

While valuable information can be learned from the experiences of others, the actions of other counties should fall well short of a legitimate argument as to why we should act in a certain way.

Last week we twice made the argument against raising the impact fee because the issue is one of revenue and the county does not have a revenue problem.

The Chronicle is as correct as they are condescending in identifying that in most circumstances, “people who complain that ‘government has plenty of money, they just want to use it for their special projects’ just aren’t doing the homework.” Except these aren’t most circumstances, and people who are doing their homework will remember that on Feb. 8 the Chronicle wrote an editorial in favor of using relief money on special projects with their support of using CARES Act funds for the Crystal River Riverwalk.

With the county receiving about $29 million in additional stimulus funds, Commissioner Ron Kitchen proposed budgeting for how to spend that money separately calling it the, “money falling from the sky” budget. The details aren’t fully set and subject to change but the county will likely have until 2024 to spend it all, which shouldn’t be a problem.

This money should still primarily go to individual and business relief for which it is intended within the narrow boundaries of the law that usually define its use. However, if that relief is still well-funded from previous unused allocations, the onus will be on the commission to resist special projects and put the money toward the best use.

The previous commission proved more than capable of this task. When the county received a $2.4 million increase from the Duke natural gas plant and the Sabal Trail pipeline, the commission allocated an additional $1 million, roughly 42%, toward road resurfacing.

Though the percentage wouldn’t need to be that large, anything over $8 million would be a significant investment that would accelerate both the road resurfacing and the end of the calls to do something about it.

The Chronicle’s main point in favor of a tax raise was, “residents need to understand that government isn’t ‘they’ - it’s ‘us.’” Put a sales tax increase on the ballot and you’ll see exactly where we stand.

Happy Easter, everyone!


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