10 reasons voters should say NO to Palm Beach County’s so-called ‘Penny tax’

The Board of Palm Beach County Commissioners and the county school board are joined in a push for a 17 percent sales tax increase — from six to seven percent. And there’s a $200,000 push to publish a parade of imaginary horribles that they claim are sure to occur if the increase isn’t approved by voters.

Those horribles include a crumbling infrastructure, classrooms lacking proper HVAC systems, roads with more potholes than pavement and bridges in danger of collapsing without warning.

tax-crop-up-17But the income the tax increase is estimated to generate would far exceed the county’s needs. Nonetheless, just like any other governmental entity, the County will find ways to spend it. Using $200,000 of your money on an advertising campaign to ask for more of your money, for example.

The tax hike is being lauded by the county as a “penny tax,” with no reference to either the nearly 17 percent tax hike or the $2.7 billion in income that it’s expected to generate over the next 10 years.

Palm Beach County’s triple-A credit rating coupled with today’s ridiculously low interest rates would indicate a more appropriate method of raising funds. Commissioners could float a bond issue, which unlike the sales tax, would not adversely affect low-income residents.

Issuing bonds would create a win-win situation: Bondholders would receive income not subject to federal income tax, and the county would receive the funds it claims it needs.

Palm Beach County Taxpayer Action Board, a grassroots coalition of local business organizations, civic groups, and “Government Watchdogs,” lists 10 reasons voters should reject the proposed tax increase when they go to the polls in November.

  1. A 17% increase in the sales tax is a net tax increase of $270M per year, with no offsets to property taxes.
  2. It is regressive and will affect low-income residents the hardest.
  3. It is not subject to the scrutiny applied to the annual ad-valorem budget.
  4. It creates an incentive to purchase outside the county (Both Broward and Martin are at 6%, many internet retailers do not collect sales tax).
  5. It is not an “infrastructure maintenance tax” but includes many new capital projects.
  6. Unlike an infrastructure bond that would raise just enough money for critical needs, this granular tax generates a specific amount of money, and low priority projects will have to be funded in order to spend it all. Like previous proposals, it is a grab-bag of projects, many of which would never be done without a “must spend” windfall.
  7. Charter schools get nothing.
  8. Many of the municipalities (PBG, Boca) didn’t want the money.
  9. It comes on top of the largest ad-valorem tax haul at the county level in history, up 8.2% over last year and up 33% since 2012. If passed, the 2017 equivalent tax hike would be 18%.
  10. Over the last 5 years, the county has consistently underfunded engineering and public works (+3%), while increasing the Sheriff’s budget by 28% and giving across the board raises to employees of 12% (3%/year for 4 years). When the overall ad-valorem budget increased by 33%, engineering saw a total of 3% in 5 years. This was a conscious choice.

Voters have power for the briefest of moments in a proverbial “voting booth.” Educated voters should say “no” to the “penny tax.”

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