Debate Center: City tax may be permanent, at least until it changes again
By Alex Culpepper
Illustration: Dennis Porter
The year 1984 was a big one in Dayton. The city was recovering after a big recession swept the land. People in town were introduced to Madonna. Consumers could finally get one of Apple’s personal computers. The Flyers made it deep into the NCAA Tournament, and Dayton might have been the only city in the country to have a “rock ‘n’ roll” mayor. It was also the year Dayton’s income tax was approved at a permanent 1.75 percent with an additional 0.5 percent tagged on for a period of six years. Madonna and Apple computers have changed, but the city’s tax structure has been the same ever since, and the 0.5 percent renewal has been approved by voters each time it has been proposed.
Known as Issue 6, the renewal is up for a vote again on May 6, and some controversy has followed the proposal. That’s because, unlike the past years when it was up for renewal, the aim this time around is to make it permanent. This tax is levied on residents and on people who work in the city but do not reside there. The price tag on this 0.5 renewal is about $22 million, approximately 14 percent of the total budget. The city sent out Issue 6 fliers to residents in April, and those fliers, along with the talk of permanency, have supporters and opponents squaring off.
Support for renewal and permanency cite the move as sound and reasonable. For one, supporters say the renewal has been heartily approved by voters over the years, and making it permanent is a logical decision that would save the city campaign money it would normally spend placing it before the public every four or six years. Supporters say the city desperately needs the money to provide services and keep police, firefighters and city maintenance workers employed. Support for the permanent renewal is also based on the belief businesses and the economy will benefit and city leaders will be freed from the distraction of wondering every few years whether a big chunk of the budget will be cut.
Opponents of the renewal have some worries. One issue is they claim the flier sent out to each resident is insufficient for educating the public about Issue 6, and voters may not truly understand what they are voting for. Another big reason for skepticism is they believe temporary renewal is a bargaining chip for residents to keep the city “honest” and hold leaders accountable when renewal time comes up. Without renewal, voters lose power, critics believe. Opponents further make the argument the renewal is a bit of a sham, because even with past renewals, services have been cut and the city is irresponsible with the money they get.
The general anti-tax mood in Dayton and in the country right now might make this vote a little closer than in past years, but some people think the renewal will appear on the ballot in November if it is voted down in May. In that case, the debate will continue, and opponents will still have problems with permanency, and supporters will warn of the consequences of less money at the city’s disposal.
Reach DCP forum moderator Alex Culpepper at AlexCulpepper@DaytonCityPaper.com
Commentary Forum Question of the week:
Does the fact Dayton’s income tax renewal has been approved in the past justify the argument it should be made permanent?
Commentary Left: What we don’t know can hurt us
By Marianne Stanley
DON’T DO IT, DAYTON!!!! Voting for Issue 6 is a further vote for our disembowelment as full citizens with both powers and rights. Mayor Whaley says we need to vote in that 0.5 percent or risk losing services? Don’t believe it! What you don’t know is: (1) Ohio is one of only 14 states that even allows its cities to tax their citizens. Surely, municipalities in the other 36 states aren’t doing without basic services. You can bet they didn’t receive a flyer saying they must make a city tax a forever tax in order to receive basic police and fire services, trash pickup, snow plowing, etc. (2) Ohio law caps municipal taxes at a flat 1 percent! How did we get to a permanent 1.75 percent here in Dayton? Do any of us really know how Dayton – its mayor and city council – spends the city’s money? I grew up in Dayton when the city gave of itself to its residents. Today, we give more and more and get less and less.
Did you know the city actually employs someone to walk through neighborhoods looking for any way at all to fine residents? One neighbor was threatened with a hefty fine for a small crack high on his chimney; another for providing some crates with straw for freezing stray cats. A decent and accountable mayor and city council would instead send employees out to inquire how they might help the hurting folks stuck in the unemployment and poverty not of their making. How about asking if they need a hand getting their yards mowed or asking if there are groceries in the house for the kids? Other cities respond to community needs; ours doesn’t.
Take the mayor of Richmond, Calif., for example. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and the city council there are creating a city of the future – where policies and initiatives are the result of high-minded leaders putting their heads together on behalf of the people, not themselves. Richmond is:
Actively addressing the housing crisis by stopping foreclosures, rather than sitting back and doing nothing as families are left shredded by crisis. Richmond offers to buy the troubled loans from the banks and if the banks refuse, they initiate eminent domain proceedings so they can sell the home to the owner at fair market value. Why? “Foreclosure is destabilizing our families and neighborhoods,” the mayor said. Wow! Someone who actually cares about that?!
Encouraging new models of economic development, such as worker-owned co-ops for job creation and local wealth building with a new non-profit created to provide start-up loans for them.
Spending money on re-entry services rather than on more arrests and imprisonment.
Distributing thousands of trees for residents and planting fruit orchards at every city school.
Training its unemployed for work in their new “green” economy.
Residents of Dayton, however, are well aware the city isn’t helping them in any way – although it finds ever new and creative ways to part them from the little money they have. One such tactic is imposing irrationally high and cruel traffic and parking fines, often administered by cameras and authorizing police to pull over motorists for nothing more than an unpaid parking ticket, impounding their vehicle on the spot and leaving them standing on the sidewalk with no way home. These are people already at the bottom with no way to pay past fines, nor the huge impound and recovery fees the city assesses. This city allows falling-down houses to stand and knocks down reusable ones. It has destroyed national landmarks and beautiful historic buildings. Dayton has increased bus fares, leaving even public transportation out of reach for many of our residents. Yet, no fewer than a dozen U.S. cities provide free bus service to its residents by acquiring funding from area businesses, universities, local, state and federal money, and even lottery proceeds. We could do the same if our “leaders” were truly seeking solutions to the problems in our community and cared about all of us.
I well remember the years when we were proud to say we lived in Dayton. No more. People avoid eye contact when you tell them you live “in” Dayton rather than in one of the outlying areas. Where does all Dayton’s money go? Publish the city budget, including revenue from all sources and all expenditures every year! Let us see why we have every last drop of money squeezed from us while without us seeing any benefit from our sacrifices.
Mayor McLaughlin said, “Social, environmental and economic justice must continue to be our compass. We are in this together.” Oh, were we to hear such words and find such commitment to the very real needs of the very real people living and working here in Dayton from our own mayor!
Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who believes many of our nation’s ills could be cured if our children were taught critical thinking skills beginning at the elementary level and continuing through middle and high school. She can be reached at MarianneStanley@DaytonCityPaper.com.
Commentary Right: Dayton citizens and tax policy
By Dave Westbrock
We are living in the age of government now controlling its citizens, rather than the populace expecting elected officials to actually represent them. The issue is really a very small piece of the taxation question.
The City of Dayton wants to make a measly 0.5 percent income tax as part of a measly 2.25 percent city income tax permanent so as not to unduly stress the voter by forcing them to decide every several years whether or not to renew it.
Apparently, there is no specific appropriation to justify this teeny tax renewal, as it will be put into the general operating fund. It is really interesting that since this will cost the city $100,000 just to put it on the ballot, naturally the City fathers want to save taxpayer money by making the tax permanent. How generous of them.
According to estimates, including federal and state income tax, sales tax, social security and Medicaid, property tax, fuel and gas tax as well as other license and server fees, the average American paid 59.7 percent of income in 2013, and 54.4 percent in 2005. There are lower figures accruing to gross versus domestic income, but this will be even worse when the Obamacare taxes fully manifest.
It is a fact that productivity declines as tax rates increase, but after all, 0.5 percent renewal of an existing tax appropriation does not seem like much. Two things are noteworthy, however. First, where do the commissioners and Mayor have the gall to remove the citizenry from voting whether or not more is taken from their paychecks? If I recall, we fought a war over representative taxation a little over 200 years ago and created the United States. Having a measly tax on tea or printed documents was a big deal in the 1700s and the patriots did not shy away no matter what King George thought. Therefore, it is un-American to allow any governmental unit to seize our treasure without our consent.
In a larger sense, the federal government has traditionally taken representative government too far with Congress’ willingness to increase taxes in the ’30s and ’40s, which resulted in a marginal tax of 70 percent – not changed until the Kennedy and Reagan years brought a more sensible tax policy. Another manifestation of government not doing what is best for its citizens is the fact that Congress blithely and routinely passes extensions of the debt ceiling.
A paltry fraction of a percent may not seem like much. In 1915, the top rate on personal income was 7 percent, a paltry figure by 21st century standards. We can see how things have changed since then. This is not to suggest that somehow this relatively small city income tax will spiral out of control, but when the populace opens the floodgates of unfettered taxation, that is to allow a tax to become permanent without the vote of the people, many things can happen.
It takes an educated voter to know how to vote based on rational facts other than, “It was passed in 1984 and again every several years to the present, so why not make it permanent?”
This testament reveals a general disrespect for the opinions of the voter. Besides, who knows how the money will be spent?
Is it rational to tell the voter, “If the earnings tax is not renewed, the impact would be nothing short of disaster in the city of Dayton,” as Mayor Nan Whaley told the Dayton Daily News? Just what disaster is she describing? Something similar to the 1913 flood when the people of Dayton did not look to the government alone to help them? It was the citizens of Dayton working together and a private company – NCR, under the leadership of John H Patterson – that made the difference in that instance. If the renewal of 0.5 percent is so important, don’t the city fathers have enough confidence in its citizenry to simply renew it?
Dr. Westbrock has been in private medical practice for 35 years. He was the Republican candidate for the U.S House of Representatives in 1994 and 1996. He has written and lectured extensively on the subject of health care reform and health care policy. He can be reached at Dave.Westbrock@DaytonCityPaper.com.