Rail tax disingenuous
December 1, 2009
How ironic that Republicans, one of whom I first supported over 20 years ago, and one who pledged never to impose new taxes when he came seeking my assistance in running his first campaign several years ago, would be the leading proponents of a new tax that could siphon as much as $300 million per year from the residents of Hillsborough County.
The real irony is that Ken Hagan's argument that new taxes are needed to lay more asphalt and Mark Sharpe's recent op-ed on commuter rail ("A roadmap to reshape economy, travel," Other Views, Nov. 23) are both disingenuous.
I don't believe you'll find anyone who's against improvements to our transportation problems. But the reaction to raise taxes to fund the debt to construct a commuter rail system is just plain wrong. Sharpe writes that the proposed tax increase of $85 per person is "... less than the three-week price rise in the cost of gasoline." Perhaps. But the option of paying for gas is ours and not an imposed burden by our government.
In the past, when costs increased, we adjusted by making prudent choices to compensate. In the case of gasoline prices, we compensated by commuting, carpooling or driving a more efficient vehicle. It's ironic that these responses in themselves are a partial solution to our transportation issues. A sales tax, however, is not easily compensated - it is a burden that will remain in perpetuity and is proven to be one of the most regressive taxes a government can impose.
Sharpe further states it's "only" $85 per person annually. This amount is suspect. General consensus is that the new tax will generate over $170 million per year in this recession. That's closer to $150 per person, and up to $300 million per year in a recovery. Nevertheless, using Sharpe's amount, a more accurate statement would be that it's up to an additional $85 per person annually. Multiply that number by 8, which will be the new sales tax rate if this referendum passes, and you have the "real" sales tax burden: up to $680 per person annually or $2,720 per family of four.
What's particularly insidious about this proposed referendum is that it doesn't address the cost of operating a commuter rail system. Any elected official trying to sell the idea that a commuter rail system can operate at break-even or profit is being dishonest.
In this recessionary environment, it is absolutely foolish to presume that the majority of voters will support one more tax. And therein lies the real problem with this referendum. It is destined for failure and with it any chance of adequately funding our future transportation needs.
Had the county commission seriously studied alternatives, they may have concluded, as Jim Norman suggested, that bonding CIT revenues from 2025 forward and dedicating it to transportation improvements made more sense. Instead, this proposed referendum is an excuse for commissioners to shirk their prime responsibility of managing our county and thereby deflect any personal blame of potential failure or provide deniability of casting their vote for a new tax increase.
Since the three Republican supporters of the $300 million-per-year rail tax - Sharpe, Hagan and Rose Ferlita - all believe that this new tax is the "holy grail" for transportation, one is left to wonder why they don't simply bypass the referendum process by calling for a vote to directly enact this tax. In this manner, they would be standing firmly on their beliefs, and the referendum results would be evident in their re-election to office or failure thereof.
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