I’m very concerned that our local government is not being straightforward with us regarding it’s plan to kill SPET and replace it with a general sales tax. Here’s why:
1) Officials claim that this general sales tax increase will provide a dedicated source of funding for housing and transportation. That’s not true. No matter what this group of elected officials resolves today those intentions are not binding on either them or on future electeds. This tax hasn’t even been implemented yet and there was already an attempt to add Budge Drive Slide remediation to the list of spending priorities, along with projects dealing with community safety, and conservation. Nothing will prevent a further expansion of allowable uses. This is not a dedicated source of funding it’s a blank check to grow government with none of the accountability that is built into the SPET tax that they are displacing.
2) Officials claim that the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars that this tax will generate will be used to solve our workforce housing and traffic problems, but this claim is not supported by their own planning documents.
Regarding workforce housing: The plans they have put in place are vague and even in their best case scenarios the huge expenditures they are planning for government subsidized private sector workforce housing will not reduce our workforce housing deficit. It will only modestly reduce the rate of growth of that deficit. The ridiculously high subsidies required by the low density housing they are planning is right up there with the Pentagon’s $600 toilet seats. No individual or employer in his right mind would pay $300,000 subsidies per housing unit. Only a government that’s using other people’s money would do that.
Regarding traffic: The enormous sums of money they plan to spend on transit will not reduce overall traffic volume. In their own extremely optimistic traffic planning projections START will at best in 20 years only handle a tiny fraction of all vehicle trips.
The Town and County are not proposing actual solutions to our housing and traffic problems. They are simply giving very expensive lip service to these issues in the name of “something must be done”.
The town and county have a track record of failure on these issues, including a disappointing history of waste and mismanagement. Now they are doubling down on these past failures with no coherent solutions on the table. If this resolution passes, at the end of ten years they will have taxed and spent over 100 million dollars, and what will we have to show for it? A widening housing gap, and a bus system that handles less than 2% of our trips.
Real solutions do exist to our workforce housing and traffic problems. We need to implement meaningful density bonuses in appropriate areas in exchange for deed restricted housing, We need to strictly focus private and public development into existing nodes, we need to modestly expand START when demand requires it, and we need to expand the carrying capacity and connectivity of our roadway system. These are actual effective solutions, but they require political will and leadership from our elected officials. Instead of providing that leadership officials are asking us to write them a big blank check and only giving us false promises in return. This ballot question encourages us to waste our hard earned money on false solutions that will only enhance the public’s sense of despair, and distrust of government.
3) Officials claim that this resolution isn’t proposing a tax increase, but they know full well that once they have brazenly usurped the very popular SPET tax with the general sales tax there will be a deafening clamor to reinstate SPET. Special interest groups that are waiting in the wings right now with over $100 million dollars in SPET requests will do their dirty work for then and promptly lead the fight for a tax increase. Adding SPET back will require a 7th penny of tax. That’s not just another penny. It’s a 15% tax increase. They are crowding out SPET, a popular revenue source, with their own money grab. The resolution elected officials just passed is a backdoor tax increase and they know it.
Rather than trying to cajole us into giving them a blank check general sales tax increase with false promises and a failed track record, the Town and County should instead put concrete proposals for housing and transit on the existing SPET ballot and convince us they are worth the money. The idea of leaving it up to the voters to decide on a general sales tax increase sounds very democratic and transparent, but to present the voters with an enormously expensive, ineffective, and deceptive tax increase, and tell them it’s their only hope for relief from the challenges we face does a disservice to a community that is looking for real solutions.