Sales tax works if it's '1 for all'
Welcome to Year 2 at Just Wright Citrus. We have options for this first blog of the new year:
—Ease into it, maybe toss around an idea or two, get us all used to 2023 before any of the heavy lifting starts.
—Dive right in.
Care to guess which option I chose?
I’m going to mention two words and please don’t panic until you hear me out: Sales tax.
We need to have a detailed discussion this year about an additional penny sales tax on the 2024 ballot. That $15 million-a-year penny is out there for the taking and with the right plan in place, it could provide a huge boost in this county for years to come.
The idea is we generate enough money from this penny sales tax increase to pay for things we really need. Something all of us touch in our daily lives.
While I think that a penny can be used for roads — NOT solely neighborhood resurfacing, but that’s part of it — the additional tax can be used for just about anything so long as it fits this specific criteria.
In fact, I have the marketing name. If I was a graphic designer, which I’m clearly not, it would look like this:
(Except the “1” would be a 1-cent symbol. Which apparently I can’t find on my keyboard. I'm trying not to let that ruin the day.)
That’s my criteria for this 1-cent sales tax referendum. It has to be something we ALL can see a need for. Doesn’t mean it’ll pass, but three things have to be clear from the outset:
— This can’t be the government’s idea. Voters are unlikely to support a new tax increase presented by the government. I’ll explain in a minute.
— It has to make sense. That’s logical, right? The problem with the occasional push last year for a sales tax increase to pay for residential road resurfacing was that it never made sense.
— The need has to be real — for all of us. Thus, the “1 for all” concept. Lousy neighborhood roads are pretty significant if you live on one but if you don’t — like most of us — there’s no need.
Let’s break these down some.
You know who was pushing for the sales tax the last 15 month? The government. Some county commissioners, the sheriff, some on the school board — they all saw that revenue potential and knew he/she could spend it wisely.
I’m not questioning motives, but their political sense is out of whack if they think voters are going to approve another penny tax THEY say is needed.
This will only work if the government is a partner, not the driving force. State law makes it virtually impossible for the county to spend any money or time on a ballot measure. Once commissioners place it on the ballot, it’s totally hands off.
So this idea clearly should come from citizens to the county commission, not the other way around.
And it also should be simple so that everyone in the county, whether you’re for a sales tax increase or not, will at least UNDERSTAND what it’s for.
A penny sales tax will bring in about $15 million a year; tourists are responsible for about one-quarter, or around $4 million, annually.
This was a huge selling point by the county last year in their talks on a penny sales tax for residential road resurfacing. In fact, it was the only one.
Other than some people scattered here and there, the idea never caught on and, thankfully, commissioners dropped it.
Whatever the goal is, it needs to be easily understood and something everyone has a stake in.
And that leads to the final point.
This need has to be real. Not a politician’s idea of making our lives better, but actual true need that, if not addressed, will spell trouble down the line.
That’s why my push is transportation. We all see the roads clogging up each day and getting worse. We all see the condition, not only of neighborhood roads, but the ones some of us drive daily, such as Gospel Island Road or Dunklin Avenue. Both of those roads needed resurfacing yesterday.
And with a countywide transportation master plan, we can coordinate traffic signals, busy intersections and school bus routes.
Plus, a dedicated funding source for roads will help the county commission adopt policies that require developers to pitch in as well. And the sales tax money can be used to help get more state/federal money.
Plus plus: Tourists pay a quarter of it.
Welcome to 2023. Let’s chat.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.