Palm Beach County Commission Proposes Sales Tax Increase
The County Commission, by a 5-2 vote, is proposing to place on the ballot in August, a 1% sales tax increase to fund Fire/Rescue outside of the normal budget process. If passed, it would become effective at the end of the year when a .5% school infrastructure tax ends, thus the new rate would be 7%.
Unlike the school infrastructure tax, this one would not have an end date, and would eliminate the need for Fire/Rescue to participate in the normal county budget process every year. In effect, it would provide a steadily increasing revenue stream that would be earmarked for Fire/Rescue only, and would be collected regardless of budget needs. It should be noted in this context, that in the period 2004-2010, the Fire/Rescue call rate went up 19% (24% if you adjust for 2004 hurricanes), while the Fire/Rescue budget went up 82%. While most would agree that Fire/Rescue is an essential service, there are a lot of things in the budget that are only incidental to responding to emergencies. If this gets on the ballot, we will be picking it apart line by line.
The tax is supposed to be “revenue neutral” – that is the county would reduce the millage so the ad-valorem taxes on real estate would decline by the amount of the sales tax increase. That sounds good (shifting taxes to consumption rather than property) but there is nothing in either the proposal or the overlying legislation (SB1000, HB365 from 2009) that requires them to do so now or in the future. How long do you suppose it would take the County Commission to find that they “need the money” and put the millage right back where it was (or higher).
A broad coalition of business and grass roots groups is coming together to fight this bad idea. The first front is on the city level -as they need the agreement of 7 of the 12 municipalities that have their own Fire/Rescue operations. It is not clear how the cities will decide it – the interlocal agreements that address revenue sharing would have to be worked out first, and you can imagine that there will be a bit of lobbying going on. If you can, call your city council and find out what they plan to do and if there is a public meeting scheduled, then post what you find here. If they can convince 7 of the cities, the rest will have to go along or lose the use of the money that their citizens are paying to the sales tax.
The second front is at the county level with two public meetings on 5/18 and 6/8, where the text of the ballot measure will be discussed. The two dissenting votes last time were Jeff Koons and Steve Abrams. Karen Marcus is the author of putting the measure on the August ballot instead of November when more people will be voting. “It is just shifting,” Commissioner Jess Santamaria said. “It is not increasing taxes… It is a way of balancing things and making it more equitable,” he said. Please prepare to attend these meetings and say whether you agree with that statement.
The third front will be the ballot measure itself (if it gets that far). With all the other issues to deal with this year, it would be a shame if this fight is added to the mix, but we must be prepared. The coalition that is coming together in opposition to this measure has created a website to make the case and provide factual context. It can be found at nonewsalestax.org. Please refer to it from time to time and join us in the fight.