Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fulfilling the PTR Promise: Some Things Are Simple

UPDATE: The vote reauthorizing the Property Tax Rebate is on the agenda for next week's Commission meeting.

Am I missing something, or is the issue of the County's Property Tax Rebate (which was part of the 1996 Stadium Vote) a simple and clearcut one?

Let me explain.

A decade ago, as part of the vote on whether to raise the sales tax 1/2 cent to pay for the new stadiums, the citizens were made a clear promise: that 30% of the receipts from the new sales tax would be returned to them through a property tax rebate (the "PTR").

This was a clear commitment made prior to the citizens' vote.

And with that commitment publicly made, and about 60% voting yes, the citizens indeed authorized taxing themselves an additional 1/2 cent to pay for the stadiums/riverfront, and to pay for the PTR that would be returned to them. Just like the promise was clear, the citizens' mandate was equally clear.

Given this history, I remain stunned whenever I hear anyone suggest, or casually float, (no current commissioners suggest this, by the way) that one potential "option" to solve our budget woes, or any other financial challenge we face, is to "use" the approximate $19M in PTR dollars, in whole or in part, for other purposes besides the promised rebate.

Far beyond a debate over tax policy (and we're striving to keep taxes as low as possible), this is a much more fundamental issue of basic governance, and adhering to the clear consent of the governed. In that light, I consider any move to divert dollars from the PTR to be a deeply illegimate act. It lacks fundamental integrity. And it's simply not an option.

As elected officials, we represent the citizens. In most areas, their voting us into office gives us authority and discretion to make decisions on their behalf, and we make those decisions as best we can (even when they're not popular). The citizens return us or remove us from office on their overall assessment of those decisions.

But in other areas, citizens make a decision, and make their will clear, directly through the ballot box. When that has occurred, as their elected representatives, we have no discretion or authority whatsoever but to implement and adhere to their decision faithfully. This is particularly true when citizens have consented to put more of their dollars into government for a specific purpose.

The PTR is one of those areas. In 1996, the citizens voted, and the implication of their vote was clear: 30% of the funds they were voluntarily agreeing to forego up would return to them. It was a deal offered by County leadership, and accepted by the citizens, and without this "deal," there would be no new tax funds at all--for the stadiums, for the PTR, for anything.

Under this vote, the elected representatives at the County have been given a simple, limited mandate: 30% of the new dollars are simply to pass through the county, and go right back out the door as the PTR. We may collect them, but simply because they pass through temporarily, these dollars are not for the County to spend or divert in any way but as a rebate for homeowners. That is the only authority we have. Case closed.

I wasn't in office in 1996. I didn't put together the stadium deal, and most of the rest of those around now weren't part of it either (although we're all living with its many consequences). But the citizens spoke. And until and unless citizens tell us otherwise, our marching orders on this issue are very simple.

To violate those orders now would fundamentally breach our mandate at a time when citizens already have lost so much faith in government.


Mark Miller said...

Thanks for getting it.

Luke said...


How about we keep the PTR and then raise property taxes?

Continuing an upward redistribution of wealth seems foolish, given that weakness in consumer spending is a big economic problem. Consumer spending increases with income equality.

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