GUEST COMMENTARY: Voters should reject 911 tax

Tuesday, March 5, 2013 | 11:55 a.m. CST

Grass Roots Organizing opposes sales taxes because they are regressive — easy for the wealthy to pay but difficult and harsh for the middle class, working poor, those looking for work, as well as disabled and elderly on fixed incomes.

For example, if one is working a minimum wage job that pays $7.35 per hour, high sales taxes burden a family’s ability to even survive. Meanwhile, a person earning an income of $100,000 per year or more barely notices the sales tax because it doesn’t affect his or her ability to meet basic needs.

The public needs to say “No” to Boone County Proposition 1, which seeks a sales tax for the 911 and emergency management systems, on April 2 because sales taxes are economically unjust. A defeat would be a victory for the majority of Boone County families and send the message that we rely too much on this type of inequitable and out-of-control form of taxation.

GRO members also oppose sales taxes proposed by Missouri.

Missouri state sales taxes are not so cruel because GRO joined with a coalition of organizations over 10 years ago to exclude sales taxes from being added to food and medicine. However, city and county sales taxes, despite GRO’s past requests to exclude them, unfortunately do include sales taxes on food and medicine.

Beyond the regressive nature of sales taxes, which GRO consistently opposes, there are other reasons to vote “No” on this particular Boone County Proposition 1 tax. Here are three unanswered questions:

1. Does Boone County need this much money to provide 911 services?

If the tax passes, the city will turn over to Boone County all the sales tax monies and the entire joint communication and emergency management operation. According to a Missourian article “Columbia, Boone County seek sales tax for 911, emergency management” published Feb.18, every year, Columbia has paid about $1.7 million and Boone County has paid $600,000-$700,000 for 911 service. This has funded about 90 percent of the 911 operation. So, the current annual budget is about $2.5 million dollars a year.

But, the sales tax money that would be collected year after year in the proposed 911 Boone County Prop 1, with no time limit for the public to access accountability and evaluation, would give Boone County $9 million per year. No one disputes that some additional funding could give the public a new building and upgrades and, hopefully, improve the 911 system. But why would $9 million be required every year when we are currently paying less than $2.5 million?

2. Where is accountability?

Thecounty asks that we vote for Prop 1 but has been unclear how this enormous amount of money would be spent.

  • Current 911 city workers would no longer have jobs with the city. They have been told they’ll have jobs with the county, but have not been told that they would have comparable hours, salaries/wages or benefits.
  • No blueprints have been provided.
  • There are no concrete plans to give us back the current city and county tax money that has been dedicated for 911 service. Are the city and county just planning to keep those millions of dollars and consider it our “donation” for other “stuff” that has yet to be determined?
  • The people have not been given any guarantees that the 911 calls would be answered more quickly or that all this money would get emergency service to us in a shorter span of time.

In the Missourian article, City Manager Mike Matthes is quoted as saying, “Really, you have to take it on trust. We’re not going to drop the baton as we hand it off.” Those words are not reassuring because if the sales tax is passed and Boone County people are paying for service day after day but the “baton” is dropped, mistakes are made and service gets worse, who is held accountable?

3. Aren’t sales taxes already too high? On April 1, the sales tax voted on in November 2012 "kicks in" everywhere in Boone County. Meanwhile, whatever the sales tax, in downtown Columbia’s Community Improvement District, they will be higher. Also, in Columbia’s now 12 Transportation Development Districts, the sales taxes will also be higher. Especially grievous to us are TDD sales taxes, because our City Council, County Commissioners and the public have no say-so or vote on TDDs.

So, the upcoming sales tax proposal is unfair, excessive, leaves many concerns and questions unanswered and makes an already-too-high sales tax even higher.

March 6 is the last day to register to vote in April. So, if you need to register, do it now, and then go to vote and vote no on the Boone County Proposition 1 sales tax on Tuesday, April 2!

Mary Hussmann is the organizer for GRO.

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