Questions about a TARTA sales taxWritten by Tim Higgins | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The rhetoric is beginning to wind up to the level of a storm in TARTA’s push to move from its current form of revenue generation, which comes from a property tax levy, to a new form of revenue generated by a county sales tax. TARTA has long pushed for an alternative means of funding, and not long ago paid for a study to determine the best way to move forward. Amazingly, this study confirmed TARTA’s hopes and desires. Such self-fulfilling prophecy always tends to bring out the cynic in me, so I found myself asking a number of questions.
The most obvious reason appears to be that moving from a property tax levy to a sales tax removes the periodic review that the levy process gives voters to comment on the level of service that TARTA provides to the community and to use that review process to decide at what level (if any) TARTA should be funded in the future. The change to a countywide sales tax would take away this last check on an organization that some feel has proved itself unresponsive to the requests and needs of its member communities.
We are told that by moving to a sales tax, the individual contribution will be based on consumption, which is a much fairer system. Fairer to whom? Fairer to the more rural communities in the county that will receive little or no service from TARTA, yet will be taxed at the same rate as those in the city of Toledo? Fairer to those in the county, wherever they live, who are consuming everything but service by TARTA? Fairer to communities in the county that may not want TARTA service, but will be forced into it if Lucas County becomes a member?
All of this discussion on fairness begs the further question, that if the fairest system is based on consumption, why aren’t we talking about charging more of it to those “consuming” this service? Why isn’t the first consideration the concept of raising fares to cover costs of its operation (or at least more of them) rather than simply broadening the tax base on which you place the burden?
We are told that public transportation is a service required for those less fortunate. Even if this argument is granted however, it should then follow that TARTA should be given nonprofit status and treated as such. Perhaps no taxes would be required if TARTA could ask for tax-deductible contributions from personal and corporate sources like any other non-profit organization.
We are told that by switching to this system, those more well off will shoulder their fair share of the burden. This begs the question, fair by whose judgment? Those earning a decent living in Lucas County are already paying the greater percentage of the bills for its operation. Property taxes, the levies that those in Northwest Ohio appear to be so found of, and income and sales tax are already onerous in Lucas County and at much higher levels than those of some of our neighboring counties. Further Increasing the level of taxation in Lucas County to fund TARTA could very well perform the same function for it that raising city taxes has done all too well in Toledo. Perhaps rather than put up with this new level of taxation, many in Lucas County will simply do the same as many in Toledo have done before them and vote with their feet. If this is in fact the effect, what will TARTA and the county be looking for down the road from taxpayers?
We are told that funding for public transportation is simply a necessary evil in an area the size of Lucas County and that we should simply reconcile ourselves to the burden that must be born for it as a consequence. We are then told that switching to the sales tax system for TARTA and having the all of Lucas County participate in funding it is simply the lesser of two evils. Now I could be wrong here, but the last time that I looked, the lesser of two evils was still evil.
Tim Higgins blogs at http://justblowingsmoke.blogspot.com.