Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Tax Hacks of Johnson County

It takes a rare issue to unify conservatives and the Kansas City Star Editorial Board on an issue.

The issue which achieved this incredible feat? The now-infamous "Forever Tax" is a question on the August 5 primary ballot, which would impose a 1/4 cent countywide retailers sales tax, presumably for public safety -- most particularly a jail, a crime lab, and new juvenile services.

We chose the word "impose" for a reason -- because that's exactly what is going on with this tax. Not well thought out, it is the brainchild of what we are now calling the "Johnson County Tax Hacks": Annabeth Surbaugh and Frank Denning specifically, as well as the other city and county "leaders" pushing this offensive, unnecessary, never-expiring tax on hard-working Johnson County voters. Of special note are the co-chairs of the "Public Safety 1st Committee", made up of self-appointed community leaders Ron Wimmer (Democrat running for the Kansas Senate in District 9), Bob Regnier (Banker and Treasurer to Wimmer and liberal Senate District 10 Candidate Sue Gamble), Fred Logan, and Larry Winn III.

Not only are they asking us to vote for it, they are threatning us with higher property taxes if we don't. Who exactly do they think they are? Such threats are not the actions of community leaders, but rather, arrogant political hacks who won't stop until their agenda is shoved down the throat of an unwilling public.

One would have thought that with the soccer initiative being well-wide of the goal in 2006, that the Johnson County leaders that are pushing this forever tax would have learned their lesson. Sadly, that is not the case.

This tax is bad for many reasons:

It never expires. As Wayne Flaherty explains, the county already has one such never-expiring tax and another one up on the ballot in November. It is simply bad policy, in our mind, to have any sales tax, approved for a specific purpose, never expire, meaning it will never be subject to public scrutiny again. Future commissions will not bring it up either -- it will literally go on forever, forgotten. Since these taxes are approved by the public, they should have to be reviewed and renewed by the public after a reasonable time period. Even if you are for it, the fact it never expires limits flexibility later.

The county grows, and therefore sales tax revenue grows. As our friends at the Kansas Progress recently pointed out, the county grows by 10,000 people each year, all of whom pay sales and property taxes. The county should be able to live within its means.

1/3 of the money goes to cities with no strings. As the Kansas City Star pointed out, 1/3 of the funds raised under the tax would go to the cities, and although the cities claim they'll use the tax for public safety, they are not required to do so and they have not laid out detailed plans to the public.

It over-taxes the public. According to the Kansas City Star, the cities would have "excess taxes" of $100 million -- are you kidding me? As the Star pointed out, that's truly indefensible, and in our opinion, offensive.

It's not new and to say otherwise is a lie. The ballot language claims that it is, but the current tax EXPIRES at the end of the year and is for different purposes. This is a NEW TAX that goes on forever, and it is dishonest to claim otherwise.

The county could come back with a tax that expires. They already have plans to do so if this fails, so it is the height of arrogance to have put this on the ballot.

This isn't fiscally responsible. The county has a $700 million dollar budget. Surely, there is room in the budget to cut.

Despite these signficant drawbacks, opposition from the Star, and opposition from the General Manager of Channel 9, "community leaders" continue to push it. What's even more offensive, however, than the downsides of the tax itself, is the way it is being shoved down our throat.

First of all, there was the county-wide "information" mailing which was more like a campaign piece -- which cost almost $40,000 and was paid for by taxpayers (hat tip, Kansas Meadowlark). So that's right, your tax dollars paid for a mailing essentially asking you to raise your taxes. Only the "Tax Hacks of Johnson County" could justify such a mailing. In this link (another hat tip, Kansas Meadowlark) you can find an image of the "information mailing", which looks a lot like a "vote yes" mailing to us. It didn't even include the ballot language!!!!

Second, there is the incredible arrogance of those pushing this. County Chair Annabeth recently had the gall to say that if voters reject the sales tax, the county will just raise property taxes. They don't even have to do so through a mill levy increase -- they can just jack up the value so f your homes -- i.e., the ghost tax. Frank Denning, another major promoter of the tax, got a tax approved by the legislature that has a 10-year sunset, but continues to support the forever tax. The county commissioners, excluding John Toplikar, continue to push for this tax even though they know there are better alternatives. Who wants to bet they all ran as fiscal conservatives, too? There is nothing fisically conservative or responsible about a never-ending, unnecessary sales tax that directs 1/3 of its funds to cities with no strings.

Third, there is already a 1/4 cent sales tax for public safety already in place! Where is that money going? With the increase in population, what is the deal at the County?

In our opinion, the voters need to stand up and reject this ridiculous tax, just like they did with soccer. Not only because it is bad policy, but to send a message to Annabeth Surbaugh, Frank Denning, area mayors and city councilman, and other self-appointed "community leaders" who are supporting this tax -- a message that says that the addiction to sales tax increases, no matter how poorly conceived or what they are for, needs to be treated.

In the opinion of Kaw & Border, the county commission, local chambers and city councils have lost touch with the voters. Send a message to the Tax Hacks of Johnson County, and vote No to the Forever Tax on August 5.