Editorial: Local sales tax or not, the needs won’t go away

As local sales tax proposals advance to November ballots in Collier and Lee counties, a recurring theme is that the projects and initiatives the sales tax would pay for won’t go away whether the referendums pass or fail.In Lee, the school district is adding an astonishing 1,800 students yearly. That’s the equivalent of enough new students to require building another high school every year. Lee voters will be asked to approve a half-percent sales tax for 10 years that would cover a current projected revenue shortfall of $478 million for the district’s capital needs.In Collier, where a 1 percent sales tax would raise $490 million over seven years, much attention has focused on infrastructure needs such as roads, bridges, intersection improvements and parks. There’s been less attention on another chronic need, a proposed $10 million workforce training center.Lee sales tax“This need will not go away,” Lee schools Superintendent Greg Adkins told Lee County commissioners Tuesday as they unanimously agreed to set a Nov. 6 referendum on the half-percent sales tax for schools.Scheduling the vote for this year’s general election ballot was a welcomed reversal by the Lee district from pursuing a costly May 15 one-issue special election. That decision, reached by the School Board at a special meeting Monday, headed off a potential conflict between district and county government leaders that would have focused the attention on “when” people would vote, not “what” Lee voters must decide.If the Lee referendum fails in November, it won’t eliminate the need for seven new schools and future rehabilitation of older campuses that could be accomplished with the sales tax.In the coming months, voters should study up on some of the alternatives Lee School Board members mentioned at Monday’s meeting. Those include more portable classrooms, spending more on interest payments through increased borrowing or Continue Reading

Conservative lawyers challenge Brown County sales tax

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A conservative law firm is challenging Brown County's new sales tax. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a lawsuit in circuit court on Tuesday alleging that a 0.5 percent sales tax the county board imposed beginning with the new year is illegal. The firm argues state law allows counties to enact such taxes only if the money will be used to reduce property taxes. According to the lawsuit, Brown County officials plans to use the money for road, museum and park projects and maintenance at the Resch Center, the county's multipurpose arena, rather than to defray property taxes. The lawsuit demands a judge declare the tax void and unenforceable. A voicemail left at the Brown County corporation counsel's office Wednesday wasn't immediately returned. Continue Reading

Here’s why Polk County voters should reject another local option sales tax increase

The war on the wallets of low-income families likely will make Polk County its next battleground come March, according to a story by Register reporters Kim Norvell and MacKenzie Elmer.Polk County officials are giddy at the prospect of scraping more pennies from poor people’s income with a 1-cent local option sales tax.Dallas County fell to an additional 1-cent tax with the Nov. 7 general election. Warren County already had one.So, let’s spread the pain around to the heart of the metro — where some of the region’s poorest people live.Sales taxes are regressive — people with lower incomes pay a higher share of their income toward sales tax than those with higher income.From the public’s perspective, “a sales tax is fair because everyone pays the same amount on whatever they buy,” said Dave Swenson, Iowa State University economist, but “low-income people use more of their income to consume goods or services than higher income people do. The tax becomes a bigger burden on them.”People who make less than $22,000 per year, the lowest 20 percent of Iowa taxpayers, pay 10.4 percent of their income in state and local taxes, per a 2015 report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.Meanwhile, people in the top 1 percent income bracket, those who make $376,000 or more per year, pay just 6 percent of their income in state and local taxes, the report stated.But we’re Americans; we believe the only fair tax is one someone else is paying.It doesn't stop there.Add Saturday parking fees (and fines) to downtown Des Moines? Why not? I never go downtown anyway.Red light cameras and automated speed enforcement? I always obey all the traffic laws. Let the scourge of lead foots pay.The fairest way to distribute the burdens of society is through a graduated income tax in which the people who make the most money pay the most.However, with the exception of some special circumstances for school districts, Continue Reading

Des Moines will pursue March vote on 1-cent sales tax increase

Des Moines is moving quickly to put a 1-cent sales tax increase on a ballot for voters in March.The penny increase could generate $37 million per year that the city could use to repair roads, improve neighborhoods or take the burden off property taxpayers.  It could generate $79 million per year countywide. Leaders of Iowa’s largest city have said the success of the ballot initiative in Dallas County earlier this month provided the momentum to move forward with a Polk County vote on March 6. But in order to pass, the 1-cent increase would need to win approval in the suburbs as well as the capital city.There are two ways a sales tax vote could end up before voters in March: Citizens can petition for a vote, which is what happened in Dallas County, or city councils representing 50 percent of Polk County's population can call for a vote.Des Moines makes up 47 percent of Polk County’s population, according to 2010 Census figures, so it “can’t do it alone,” said Dawn Williams, director of elections at the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.The Des Moines City Council plans to approve a motion on Dec. 4 calling for a vote. Another cities representing at least 3 percent of the county's residents would need to approve a similar motion by Dec. 12 to meet the deadline for a March vote. It’s unclear which suburbs will stand with Des Moines to move the ballot measure forward. But city leaders from across the metro have expressed interest in pursuing a sales tax increase. Urbandale Mayor Bob Andeweg said Tuesday he’d personally support the 1-cent increase, but the city has not formally taken a position on the issue.Voters from Clive, Urbandale, Waukee and West Des Moines who live in Dallas County approved the 1-cent increase in the Nov. 7 election. It will take effect on July 1, 2018.Unless Polk County voters approve a sales tax increase in Continue Reading

State’s $153.1B budget won’t include Cuomo’s proposal to require online stores with big N.Y. shopper base to collect sales tax

ALBANY - In a win for online shoppers, the $153.1 billion state budget deal announced Friday night does not include Gov. Cuomo's push to require online marketplaces such as Etsy and Amazon to collect sales taxes. The decision to kill Cuomo’s online tax proposal was hailed by tech groups, but ripped by New York retailers. The plan would have required online marketplace providers that process a minimum of $100 million in sales a year from New York buyers to collect sales taxes on behalf of third parties from outside New York who use their platforms to sell goods to state residents. Sales taxes are already collected when a third-party seller is located in New York, but not when the seller is from outside the state. Matthew Mincieli, northeast region executive director of TechNet, said had it be enacted, the first-in-the-nation policy would have "set a dangerous precedent across the country." “We understand states are looking for new revenue sources, but bad tax policy is not the way to go about it," he said. Internet Association Executive Director for New York State John Olsen said the decision to kill the proposal on top of one to allow ridesharing outside of New York City sends a “clear message that New York State is indeed open for business.” But Retail Council of New York State head Ted Potrikus accused Senate Republicans who led the charge against the tax proposal of having "caved to the clichéd histrionics and whining of out-of-state dot-coms worth billions of dollars" while ignoring "the very real concerns of brick-and-mortar stores struggling in their own districts." Cuomo's budget office estimated the change would have generated $200 million in new revenue for the state over the next two years while closing a loophole that critics argued benefits out-of-state sellers over those in New York. Mayor de Blasio is not happy that a one-year extension giving him Continue Reading

Indian River Lagoon sales tax panel pushing transparency

The citizens' advisory board tasked with oversight on spending of Brevard County's special sales tax for Indian River Lagoon restoration is taking steps to assure public confidence and transparency in the process.Those steps include monitoring of progress of the cleanup work, formulating a plan to get the word out about the projects through social media and starting to televise meetings of their Save Our Indian River Lagoon Project Plan Citizen Oversight Committee.The voter-approved half-cent-per-dollar sales tax started to be collected in January, and has been authorized for 10 years. It is expected to raise about $34 million a year for lagoon projects.The lagoon in recent years has experienced algae blooms, brown tide, fish kills, and unexplained deaths of dolphins, manatees and pelicans.The plan for restoring the lagoon within Brevard includes such approaches as muck removal, stormwater projects, upgrades to wastewater treatment facilities, septic system removal and upgrades, fertilizer management, oyster reef/living shoreline projects and public education.Here are three things that are being done by the Citizen Oversight Committee and others to assure transparency in the process:As part of efforts in place to monitor the progress and results of lagoon restoration efforts, these additional approaches were discussed at the committee's last meeting:• Citizen Oversight Committee member John Windsor Jr. of Melbourne said he expects continued state-funded work by Florida Institute of Technology researchers related to various aspects of muck dredging and removal from the bottom of the Indian River Lagoon."It's really important to remove all the muck" — or at least as much as is physically possible, said Windsor, a Florida Tech professor emeritus for oceanography and environmental science. "The biodiversity of the lagoon increases dramatically when there is no muck there."Windsor said muck increases turbidity and inhibits seagrass growth; Continue Reading

In some states, sales tax holidays lose luster

Consumers in 16 states can take advantage of sales tax holidays this year — going on frenzied shopping sprees to buy items such as backpacks, computers and school clothes tax-free. But states confronting budget woes and a long list of spending priorities are questioning whether the hyped-up shopping events are worth the cost.Left-leaning critics say the holidays are regressive and cost states money that could be spent on other priorities. Right-leaning groups agree that they are regressive, and argue that they don’t attract new business for retailers. Instead, they say, the holidays just concentrate buying into a single weekend.  For more than a decade after New York started the modern trend in 1997, the number of states with annual sales tax holidays grew steadily. But the count peaked at 19 in 2010, and this year’s tally is one fewer than last year. The liberal Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that states lost $300 million due to sales tax holidays in 2016.The holidays spark buying sprees and big advertising campaigns. For a few days this month in Texas, shoppers can buy backpacks worth up to $100 without paying sales tax. In Missouri, graphing calculators get the tax-free treatment this weekend, and in Virginia, it applies to generators, chainsaws and other hurricane preparedness items, along with school supplies. But despite the excitement, for many states the numbers are not adding up.Charley Ballard, an economics professor at Michigan State University, said two closely related factors may have helped to “take the shine off” sales tax holidays. Lawmakers are feeling pressure from their constituents to do things that require money, Ballard said. At the same time, the holidays haven’t unleashed the promised burst of economic growth. You may also be interested in: Trust, but verify: Keep an eye on your college kid’s spending 2017 back-to-college spending projected to hit an Continue Reading

Should Arizona universities pay state sales tax? Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposal would exempt state schools

A proposal by Gov. Doug Ducey would allow the three state universities to keep their portion of the state sales tax, a move that would free up about $37 million a year to be used for backlogged building repairs and new construction.Ducey's announcement on Friday, presented as part of his state budget proposal, would allow Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University to keep the sales-tax revenue they generate, instead of sending it to state and local government coffers.The idea has support from some members of the Arizona Board of Regents, who oversee the universities. But the potential change has generated concerns among city and county officials, whose jurisdictions receive a portion of the 5 percent state sales tax.Ducey picked up on an idea that was floated by the regents at a November meeting. Regents staff pitched the proposal as a creative way to bring in a steady stream of revenue: an estimated $1.5 billion or more over 30 years.The money could only be used for capital needs such as financing repairs and new research buildings. A 2013 story in The Republic and on azcentral.com detailed how ASU, UA and NAU  had $511 million in backlogged building repairs. The past-due maintenance included items such as aging roofs, worn carpet, corroded pipes and aging air conditioners. MORE: Ducey's budget aims at education | What the education plan means for youSince then, the problem has only gotten worse. The backlog has grown to $671 million, according to a recent analysis by the regents.Regent Rick Myers said Arizona is one of only six states that require public universities to pay state sales tax. The others are Arkansas, California, Hawaii, South Carolina and Washington."So there is an equity issue here," he said at the November meeting.Regents at the November meeting said they had received emails from Continue Reading

Indiana makes moves to force you to pay online sales tax

As online sales continue to rise and brick-and-mortar retailers suffer the consequences, there’s another surprising loser: states.A 25-year-old Supreme Court case — decided even before the birth of the largest e-commerce company, Amazon — prohibits states from collecting sales tax from businesses unless they have a physical presence in the state.Indiana lawmakers, however, passed a law this spring claiming the state has a right to collect sales taxes from those using only online transactions. If companies abide by the state law, it could mean Hoosiers will pay more sales taxes starting July 1.But if companies don’t — which is likely — Indiana will find itself in a court battle.“We anticipate further litigation and actually, we welcome the litigation,” said bill sponsor Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek.For years, states have grappled with the 1992 Supreme Court case Quill Corp. v. North Dakota as online retailers started to dip into the revenue of traditional retailers.Between the start of 2016 and 2017, e-commerce sales increased by 14.7 percent, while total retail only increased by 5.1 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The impact is evident in the number of large retailers such as Sears and JCPenney that have announced they are closing stores. Retail: Briggs: People say malls are dying. Simon says not so fast. Indiana politics: Interest in Pence's private, official emails will cost state $100K More from Lange: What went wrong with I-69? As a result, the state is losing some of its largest source of revenue: sales taxes. In 2016, more than 40 percent of the state's $18 billion revenue came from sales taxes. A study published by the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute and Ball StateThe Indiana Department of Revenue declined to release their current estimates, due to "imminent pending litigation."The state is still able to collect some of its online sales taxes, Continue Reading

President Obama’s value-added trillion: America’s ripe for a European-style sales tax

As the night follows the day, the VAT cometh. With the passage of Obamacare, creating a vast middle-class entitlement, a national sales tax of the kind near-universal in Europe is inevitable. We are now $8 trillion in debt. The Congressional Budget Office projects that another $12 trillion will be added over the next decade. Obamacare, when stripped of its budgetary gimmicks - the unfunded $200 billion-plus doctor fix, the double counting of Medicare cuts, the 10-6 sleight-of-hand (counting 10 years of revenue and only six years of outflows) - is at minimum a $2 trillion new entitlement. It will vastly increase the debt. But even if it were revenue-neutral, Obamacare pre-empts and appropriates for itself the best and easiest means of reducing the existing deficit. Obamacare's $500 billion of cuts in Medicare and $600 billion in tax hikes are no longer available for deficit reduction. They are siphoned off for the new entitlement of insuring the uninsured. This is fiscally disastrous because, as President Obama himself explained last year in unveiling his grand transformational policies, our unsustainable fiscal path requires control of entitlement spending, the most ruinous of which is out-of-control health care costs. Obamacare was sold on the premise that, as Nancy Pelosi put it, "health care reform is entitlement reform. Our budget cannot take this upward spiral of cost." But the bill enacted on Tuesday accelerates the spiral: It radically expands Medicaid (adding 15 million new recipients/dependents) and shamelessly raids Medicare by spending on a new entitlement the $500 billion in cuts and the yield from the Medicare tax hikes. Obama knows that the debt bomb is looming, that Moody's is warning that the Treasury's AAA rating is in jeopardy, that we are headed for a run on the dollar and/or hyperinflation if nothing is done. Hence his deficit reduction commission. It will report (surprise!) after the November elections. What will it recommend? Continue Reading