Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Common sense and rushing local opinion sales tax elections

I’ve already received a few “thank you” comments about today’s “Our View” (“County voters not ready for local option tax”).

The comments took me by surprise because it seems like just common sense for the Editorial Board to say the Iowa City Council shouldn’t rush with wild abandon into calling for a March 3 election for a Local Option Sales Tax when — as far as I can tell — the council hasn't spent five minutes discussing the issue nor has it received a single briefing from staff.

But it turns out that the councilors deserve to be thanked for following common sense because there has been a lot of overt and behind-the-scenes pressure placed on them to call for a special election or lose out on $4.6 million dollars. That’s the difference in revenue that local governments would receive if a sales tax were approved in March as opposed to in May.

I don’t have any reason to doubt that figure, but it’s misleading for anyone to bandy it about as if it were a done deal.

Not surprisingly in this business, I’ve also heard a complaint about today’s editorial. If we’re going to criticize those who speak about the $4.6 million as if it were a certainty rather than possibility, the complaint goes, then we shouldn’t let ourselves write with such certainty that the voters would vote down a local option sales tax on March 3. Nor should we — the complaint continues — be able to write that putting the issue on the ballot for March would be a waste of the taxpayer money it would take to hold the special election.

But that's the Editorial Board’s consensus opinion, and it’s our best prediction on what the results of rushing this decision would be.

Once the council has time to collect accurate information, to deliberate and to make an informed decision, then the Editorial Board probably would be willing to back a decision to move forward with a May election. And then we, after careful deliberation, would look through the plan and advise voters whether we think they should vote the measure up or down.

But I simply can't understand how we — or anyone else — could suggest that the council rush blindly into a decision that would cost the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and could have a host of negative, unintended consequences for the region. Nor do I think the $4.6 million figure should be used as an “Act now, or you’ll lose out on this special offer” sales technique.

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