Taxation without representation
Starting last Monday, that $5 meal at the Columbia Mall Food Court began costing an extra 2.5 cents.
Outraged? Sales taxes like this one — charged by the Columbia Mall Transportation Development District — cost shoppers in Columbia an extra $1.8 million last year. One of 12 in the city, the mall’s TDD plans to use the extra money to pay for road projects in the Stadium Boulevard corridor that funnels traffic to its retailers.
The Missouri General Assembly is trying to make sure consumers know when they’re being charged extra. Under a law that took effect in August, businesses within TDDs must prominently place a sign showing their sales tax rate.
TDDs are on the rise in Columbia. They surround the new Super Wal-Marts, the Bass Pro Shop development, the length of Stadium between Interstate 70 and Broadway and several retail centers along Range Line Street. The phenomenon is occurring as the city struggles to keep pace with infrastructure needs. A cornucopia of ideas for funding have been proposed, but in the meantime, through TDDs private developers are taking matters into their own hands and collecting millions in extra sales tax without having to ask voters for permission.
Are TDDs the best way to pay for road improvements? Should the public have a greater say about the tax rate they pay? Why or why not?
Federal authorities championed last week’s underground steroid bust as a major victory in an ongoing struggle against the drugs. Steroid users, though, say steroids’ effects are often exaggerated and that the government should spend its time and efforts combating other problems.
The Drug Enforcement Administration spent nearly two years on the latest sting, dubbed Operation Raw Deal. The operation resulted in the arrest of more than 120 people and the seizure of 242 kilograms of raw steroid powder. Officials hailed the bust but said it will be far from the last steroid sting.
One member of the online steroid community, Greg Powell, who said he has registered at more than 100 message boards for steroid users, said the government is persecuting otherwise good people.
“They’ve got good hearts,” Powell said. “What are they guilty of, trying to look better?”
Powell said users should research their genetic history before taking steroids. He also warns against believing what he sees as government propaganda about steroids.
Are steroids a health menace, and how much priority should the government place on enforcing laws against steroid use?
Many residents of the North-Central Columbia neighborhood are supporting a proposal they think will beautify their neighborhood, make it safer and guide its future development. They want to add an additional layer of zoning ordinances intended to promote a clean, aesthetically pleasing appearance; to preserve architectural and historic integrity; and to prevent certain undesirable businesses from coming in. The document outlining the proposed “overlay district” is a thick treatise that’s the result of nearly 15 years of work.
At a public hearing Thursday, several commercial developers cried foul. They said the rules and a proposed mandatory design review board would be too constraining and would hamper development. Don Stamper of the Central Missouri Development Council said the neighborhood should focus less on restrictions and more on incentives for complying with neighborhood guidelines. A list of restricted land uses, including temporary shelters and adult video stores, also bore much of the criticism. The two sides sparred for more than three hours on Thursday in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission, which has taken the proposal under advisement and will make it the subject of several work sessions. The first session is Dec. 6.
How do we draw the line between granting residents the authority to control their neighborhoods’ destiny and avoiding burdensome regulations?
Focusing on foreclosures
Foreclosures in Boone County reached a record high this year, with 172 recorded through Sept. 28. The previous record was 150 homes, set in 2003.
Though some Boone County home owners suffered this year, the foreclosure rate was still lower than national averages. The national foreclosure rate was one filing per 475 housing units in August. For Missouri, it was one per 793 units. In Boone County the rate was one filing per 4,214 housing units.
Experts say high foreclosure rates might be related to adjustable-rate mortgages and irresponsible lending practices. Less-qualified borrowers were sometimes offered low “teaser” rates that often increased to unaffordable rates. Boone County’s lower foreclosure rate could be a result of our favorable demographics, said Mary Wilkerson, vice president of marketing at Boone County National Bank.
“We are a highly educated community in general, and we are situated in an area that is not as densely rural or urban. This balance between the two helps us in this regard,” she said.
How do you think foreclosure rates will affect the availability of affordable housing in Columbia?
Officials in the University of Missouri System have yet to sign a voluntary code of conduct designed to promote acceptable student lending activities.
The code of conduct was proposed by Attorney General Jay Nixon in the wake of a New York investigation into whether universities received payments for directing students to certain lenders. The code of conduct prohibits kickbacks to schools and requires transparency about its preferred lenders.
UM spokesman Scott Charton said the university has not been contacted about signing a code of conduct, but Nixon’s office said it has contacted all 79 of Missouri’s universities and colleges.
Only 21 institutes of higher learning in Missouri had signed the code by late September. UM, Columbia College and Stephens College were not among them.
A state investigation into university lending practices, completed by the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education, found no evidence of serious misconduct in the 59 universities that responded. Those did include UM, Columbia College and Stephens College.
Should these schools sign the code of conduct? Why or why not?