When it comes to spending, we are starting to look like Washington

“Tax and Spend!” That is the derisive slogan often used to unflatteringly describe the current liberal-dominated Federal Executive. In our region, we are generally skeptical of government’s constant call for tax payers to “give just a little more” so that they can fund that plethora of great ideas imposed on us. Demographically we seems steadfastly conservative….Or are we?

Last year, the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen increased property taxes by seven percent. The Sullivan County Commission is about to raise taxes by thirteen percent. This is only the beginning.

These actions do not even begin to address the looming and well known capital expenditures that will be needed to address the school facility shortfalls and requirements. The estimated one hundred million dollar price tag alone would require another 5.1 million dollar debt service per year. By the time our local governments finish, it is likely we will see a thirty or forty percent total increase in property taxes.

This says nothing of the consistent “fee” increases in utilities like sewer and water. The term should not deflect; fees are taxes!

Does this sound like the actions of “conservative” government?

What would we say if our current President announced such a precipitous tax increase? We would scream bloody murder; yet, locally we allow our elected officials to willingly preside over a process that thoroughly replicates the worst of the spending habits of our leaders in Washington.

One oft heard proclamation is that, “We have not raised taxes in….years.” This seems like a contrary argument. If the community is growing, if we are as vibrant as we seem to allude in the constant acclamations that property values are rising and sales tax revenues are increasing, why does the government need more of our valuable resources?

Another argument is that these are necessary and worthy expenditures. Of course they are. Be it expansion of services or infrastructure improvements, everything seems to have a benefit. Isn’t that just what liberal leaders in Washington say about their programs?

There is little shade of difference in the philosophy. It is really only in the specifics. “Our project is better than theirs.” The attitude and the impact on the population is about the same. Raise the financial burden on the citizen so the government can do more on our behalf. Apparently, we are not sufficiently intelligent to be able to decide for ourselves what is the best way to allocate our own money and, therefore, need their assistance in that endeavor.

What should be done?

First, accept the truth: because we have not grown and because we have let some areas fall into disrepair, we will likely have to eat some tax increase. However, no tax increases should be made until all the numbers are in.

What is the comprehensive solution to the school realignment program and what does it cost? What will it take to upgrade the correctional facilities? This list is long and we cannot possibly understand the magnitude of the costs until it is all laid bare. Only then can we understand where the trade-offs are.

We must stop the incrementalism. Every little slice of the salami (every small tax increase) seems trivial. Yet, in the end it is all gone. Certainly, some of the current allocations would fail to make the cut if they were compared to other more pressing issues.

In addition, we must be more circumspect in “giving” our tax dollars away. Regional governments have collectively given tens upon tens of million dollars of potential taxes away in order to “attract” other tax dollars. Given the relatively diminutive growth of retail sales tax revenue, it is rational to question such a policy. Anecdotal evidence would show that stores that came for tax breaks leave as soon as the benefit is over, ever in search of free money rather than legitimately meeting the dictates of the free market.

By increasing taxes today, the County Commission is hiding its true intention. They are not being honest with us. They are concealing the magnitude of the burden with which they are about to burden the taxpaying citizens of region.

Sadly, all of this will likely happen with barely a whimper from the citizenry.

However, there is still time to hold our elected leaders accountable. Make them show us the bill, before they start spending our money.

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