Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Strange Bedfellows and Stranger Taxes

It has been said that politics makes strange bedfellows.  And this was never clearer locally than in the last two weeks, when I spoke at two public hearings against the proposed Fishers 1% food and beverage sales tax.  Also opposing the new tax were a wide variety of residents from all parts of the political spectrum, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, and even Tea Party.  I had a young man from a Tea Party group re-tweeting my Twitter posts from last night's meeting, and yes, we found ourselves completely on the same side on this issue.

Even odder, the majority of the Fishers Town Council seems determined to enact this new tax no matter what residents say.   Council President John Weingardt made a strongly-worded statement in support of the new tax.  He cited property tax reduction, not economic development, as his reason.  This is despite the fact that some residents, notably renters, would not benefit from property tax reduction, minimal at best, but would pay the new higher sales tax.

Former Council President Scott Faultless also made a strong statement in support of the new tax, but dismissed property tax relief and cited economic development as the reason for the new tax.  Faultless claimed, without specifics, that Fishers needs the new tax to land a proposed $100 million new development that needs $25 million in new infrastructure.  Faultless did not specify how a new tax raising $1 million a year would pay for $25 million in infrastructure, or why capital improvement bonds, the usual vehicle for such improvements, could not be used.

And I did something unusual, I praised Council member Stuart Easley for making a very honest and candid remark at last week's public hearing.  Easley said that the new tax would be "one more tool in the economic development toolbox", which means there is no specific reason for it, they just want the money.  Easley also claimed he has consistently opposed such a tax in the past, but is undecided this time.

The only council member who is strongly opposed is Renee Cox, who is also running for Mayor.  Another Mayor candidate, another former council president, Walt Kelly, is also opposed.  A third Mayor candidate, town manager Scott Fadness, has made no statement of which I am aware and is in a very awkward spot on this issue as a town employee.  Some believe it may have been Fadness' advice to the council that they ask the General Assembly for this power.  It should be noted that several members of the council majority are openly supporting Fadness for Mayor, notably Pete Peterson and John Weingardt.

The upshot is that not only can the council majority not identify how the new tax would be used, they cannot even agree on WHY it should be adopted, or if it should be used for "economic development" - a term that could mean almost anything - or for property tax reduction, by substituting one tax for another.  The council has rejected a similar tax in the past, and should do so again.

This tax will come to a vote at the council meeting on December 2.  If you want your voice heard, and few enough have spoken out, you can write, email, or call the members of the Town Council before then.  And if they ignore your wishes, vote them out when they seek re-election next year.  After all, this would not be the first time the majority of the council has been on opposite sides from the public on a major local issue.