Blount County voters will once again decide if they wish to pay a Wheel Tax, in the specially called election on June 11. The cost to the taxpayers for the special election will be at least $80,000, but saving money is of little concern to the resolution sponsors who have a habitual history of tax and fee increases. The Wheel Tax is the latest demonstration that being a Republican doesn’t necessarily mean limited government and low taxes.
All 21 members of the Blount County Commission were elected as Republicans in 2010, at a time when people were angry with Democrats and calling for a return to constitutionally limited government. The Blount County Republican Party sent a post card mailer warning people not to vote for local Democrats because of the big tax and spending Democrats in Washington DC. The three Democrats on the Commission were easily defeated.
Blount County voters handily defeated a wheel tax in 2006, with 71% of the voters rejecting it. Voters rejected a sales tax increase in 2008. Both of these votes took place prior to the current Commission, but Republicans had a super majority on the previous Commission, with a majority of the current Commissioners sitting on the previous Commission.
The current all-Republican Commission voted to raise the property tax rate the first year of their new term in 2011. While some of the Republican Commissioners voted against the tax increase, many of them voted for most or all of the spending that caused the tax increase, which makes them guilty of big spending and culpable for the tax increase.
Instead of creating a Committee to cut waste, the Commission created a Committee to Study Lost Revenue. The all-Republican Commission finished out the last month of the first year of their current term with litigation fee increases, with the resolution reading “WHEREAS, Blount County is in need of additional revenue.”
Rather than increase property tax in the second year of the current term, a sales tax increase was proposed in 2012. Blount County voters defeated the proposed sales tax increase a second time, but with a much narrower margin of defeat than in 2008.
Now the Wheel Tax is back, as the all-Republican Commission faces a huge spending increase from Blount County Schools, in its third year. The timing of the special election is interesting, the middle of June when School is out and people are taking vacations. The Commission has been unable to get voters in November elections, when voter turnout is at its highest, to approve tax increases. The date of the election appears to be deliberately set to catch people off guard so that the tax can be slid through, knowing that government employees usually vote, while hoping that those opposed are unaware or busy during the specially called election.
Republicans gave Blount Countians a property tax increase and fee increases in their first year. Republicans tried to give Blount Countians a sales tax increase in their second year. Now Blount Countians are faced with a Wheel Tax. The Commission could implement a Wheel Tax on its own authority with a two-thirds majority vote during two consecutive Commission meetings. Republican Commissioners don’t want to do this, partly because they hope to get the voter to do it for them.
The other reason is because the Wheel Tax won’t fix the School Budget problem entirely. The $86.8 million School Budget means a funding deficit of $6.9 million. Commissioner Holden Lail, one of the Wheel Tax resolution sponsors who is a retired Blount County educator and is married to Blount County educator, doesn’t know how much the Wheel Tax will actually generate. Estimates range from $2.5-3.5 million, which is far short of the $6.9 million needed. The Commission would then have to decide whether to increase the property tax rate to fund the deficit or tell the School Board to cut its budget.
The Wheel Tax proposal is sloppy, slothful and sly. It’s sloppy because the amount it generates is unknown but the best estimate shows it only providing about half of the requested increase. It’s slothful because it raises taxes without making any attempt to cut wasteful spending. It’s sly because it’s planned to avoid a general election so that County employees can ramrod it through.
The people of Blount County need to critically evaluate the performance of this all-Republican Commission. Voters have rejected all proposed tax increases, while the all Republican Commission has proposed a tax increase each year. Republicans railed about the dangers of big government Democrats in Washington DC in 2010, but the people of Blount County have an all-Republican Commission that hasn’t gone a single year without trying to increase taxes since their rhetoric about the Democrats in Washington DC.