Vote “NO” on regressive sales-tax hike

Dear Polk County Friends,

This one is for my local audience regarding the Tuesday, March 6 vote on the local option sales tax. If you’re not a Polk County resident and fighting an unfair tax hike anywhere in America, this is still a productive read. It’s based on what I wrote for The Des Moines Register last week.

Is there anyone in America not fed up with Big Money in politics?

In these most partisan of times, we share near universal disgust with the seasonal bombardment of propaganda financed by corporate and special interests on behalf of political candidates. Sadly, the Democratic or Republican candidate who sinks the most money into this game usually wins.

Well, take heart. There’s one type of election, based on history, where the little guy and gal have a better shot at beating Big Money. On March 6, residents of Polk County will vote on Public Measure A, casting a simple “yes” or “no” vote on increasing the sales tax by a penny.

Sticking it to Big Money is one reason to vote down the proposed local option sales tax, though it’s hardly the best. Here are the reasons I’m voting “no.”

The sales tax hits low-income people and the working poor hardest — a fact verified by every credible study available. As Register columnist Daniel Finney points out, “People who make less than $22,000 per year, the lowest 20 percent of Iowa taxpayers, pay 10.4 percent of their income in state and local taxes, per a 2015 report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Meanwhile, people in the top 1 percent income bracket, those who make $376,000 or more per year, pay just 6 percent of their income in state and local taxes, the report stated.”

The sales tax has been raised over and over again even as other taxes that benefit special interests, corporations, and the wealthy have been cut. Enough! Politicians who lack the guts to pay for new projects or programs with a tax increase on those most capable of paying need to rethink this “tax the poor because they can’t fight back” strategy.

This is mostly a tax shift. People hate property taxes, and Public Measure A’s backers know this. That’s why they cleverly earmark 50 percent of the revenue for property tax relief. That’s unfair and disingenuous.

The vote is scheduled for March 6 instead of during a municipal or general election when more people vote. Issue elections such as this usually go better for backers when turnout is small — thus, the choice of an obscure date in March when turnout will likely be 5 to 10 percent of registered voters. On top of that, scheduling the vote separate from other elections costs a bundle of money — think 200 precincts each staffed with three people open for thirteen hours, plus the paper, machines, etc. T’ain’t cheap.

Challenge government to cut waste before raising taxes. Some of the remaining 50 percent of potential revenue would be spent on stuff that most of us appreciate, but let’s demand that local governments do a better job spending the money they already collect. I could give loads of examples of government waste I’ve seen in Des Moines, but each would require a separate column.

Proponents of the sales tax increase have raised $135,000! Those of us opposed have raised $0. Where is the big money in support of the tax increase coming from? Check out the full campaign finance report. Here are a few of the biggest of the big donors, many who will benefit from the proposal’s property tax reduction:

Hubbell Realty Company fund — $15,000.00
Meredith —$15,000.00
Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. — $10,000.00
James S. Cownie — $10,000.00
Knapp Properties, LC — $10,000.00
EMC Insurance — $7,500.00
The Graham Group — $6,000.00
Raccoon Valley Investment Co., LC — $5,000.00
Wellmark — $5,000.00
Nelson Development, LLC — $5,000.00
Christensen Development 1, LLC — $5,000.00
The Hansen Company — $5,000.00
Ruan Center Corporation — $5,000.00
Ruan Inc. — $5,000.00
Kemin Industries, Inc. — $5,000.00
Gartner, Michael G. — $5,000.00
Rypma, Timothy — $2,500.00
Simonson, Michael W. — $2,500.00
Conlin, James C. — $2,500.00
Ryan Companies US, Inc.. — $2,000.00
The Weitz Company, LLC — $2,000.00
Des Moines Area Assoc. of Realtors — $2,000.00

At the risk of ruining his reputation, I’ll conclude by again quoting Finney: “[P]roperty tax breaks for big companies and new construction are given away like candy on Beggars’ Night. And city and county officials scramble to find cash to pay for potholes, cops and paramedics.”

Nailed it. Vote “no” and challenge our elected officials to find a fairer way to fund their pet projects.

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