Franklin County is considering making its temporary quarter-penny sales-tax hike permanent. Officials figure people have already been paying it, so they won’t notice the pinch. Besides, it’s for a good cause: government.
We appreciate that county officials’ hearts are in the right place — they see endless social-service needs and desirable community investments that an additional $60 million a year could support. But their fingers are in the wrong place: our pockets.
The Board of Commissioners should nix this administrative proposal.
It breaks faith with voters, reneging on a 2013 promise to sunset the five-year tax in December 2018.
It does nothing to force county government to operate more efficiently, by rooting out mission creep and bloat.
Sales taxes are regressive, falling harder on the poor, who still must purchase basic goods.
Franklin County’s sales-tax rate is the second-highest in the state, behind only Cuyahoga County.
The county isn’t broke: It has $177 million in cash reserves.
And it is premised on predictable problems used to justify prior tax hikes:
Today: County officials say they must position the county for rapid growth.
In 2013, as the county voted for a 0.50 percent increase, to achieve the current 7.5 percent rate: “We must now position Franklin County to be able to serve our growing population by fostering job creation and delivering safety-net services,” Commissioner John O’Grady then said.Today: The county argues it needs to offset state cuts to the local-government fund and the loss of $21 million a year from a federal Medicaid-providers’ tax.
In 2013: The permanent increase is attributed to cuts in state and federal support, including the elimination of the tangible personal property tax.
Commissioners will hold public hearings on the tax-extension proposal before voting Dec. 19.
The administration’s proposal, O’Grady said, would keep county government on sound financial footing, meet vital needs, and allow Franklin County to save $50 million by bumping up Phase II of a new jail project.
These are all worthy considerations, but commissioners had promised this tax would be temporary. Of the half-penny increase approved in 2013, only 0.25 percent was to be permanent, to bolster operating revenues. The other 0.25 percent was to raise money for a new morgue and Phase I of a new jail — then expire.Commissioners say the situation has changed: They’ve learned the county could save $50 million by building the entire complex at once. And they say they didn’t expect the state government cuts. Again.
We see two reasonable options: Extend the sales tax for five years, dedicating revenues to quickly pay off Phase II of the jail and cover a portion of funding losses.
Or put the request for a permanent sales tax before voters. Make a case for dire need.
Government should always have a clear and compelling reason to reach into our pockets, as well as documented spending cuts and a dedicated plan for how it would spend additional dollars.
Franklin County is rightly proud of being well-managed, but it’s less of a challenge to achieve this with ample revenues. The real test of management comes with a constrained budget.