As a registered Republican and fiscal conservative, I seldom ask for more taxes. However, when I do ask for taxes, I want them to be well crafted.
The Hamilton County Commissioners have voted to keep from the Nov. ballot a tax championed and designed by private sector leaders and to instead allow on the ballot that most hideous of monsters: a poorly thought-out tax.
On Aug. 5, and voted on a proposed ballot initiative for a sales tax increase of 25 cents on the dollar for the next 14 years to help fund the revitalization of Cincinnati’s Music Hall and Union Terminal.
The plan for this so-called “icon tax” came from the Cultural Facilities Task Force led by former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert A. McDonald. A 2-1 vote, however, approved a counter-proposal from Commissioner Chris Monzel for a .25% sales tax increase for the next five years to fund the revitalization of only Union terminal.
The tax, which will now appear on the Nov. 4 ballot, falls in line with the “fair-share” plan for funding renovations proposed by the Citizen Oversight Board to appease Republican voters. In order to limit the sales tax, this plan proposed not only cutting Music Hall but also shifting a larger fiscal burden onto the city of Cincinnati – around $40 million, instead of the $10 million Mayor John Cranley had previously offered.
This plan makes my conservative-senses tingle, not least because it fails to acknowledge basic economic logic. The refrain of those opposed to the original plan centered on the injustice of county residents shouldering the burden of funding two “icons” which were the property of the city alone. However, Cincinnati, wherein well over a third of the county resides, clearly constitutes the economic and cultural hub of the area. Under the “fair-share” proposal, Cincinnati will lose the opportunity to renovate one icon and need to find an additional $30 million.
This means that residents of the city would be taxed twice, once from the county and once from the city, to fund a museum which caters to not only the whole county, but the whole metropolitan area.
In addition to this, the new proposal runs the risk of scaring away over $15 million in private donations. Bearing these issues in mind, it seems unlikely that the renovations Union Terminal requires could be funded adequately even if the voters approve the sales tax. This leaves only two likely options come Nov.
In one scenario, the tax is voted down because it is illogical and both icons suffer, and in the other the tax levy passes and the citizens of the city and the county must rely on politicians to scrounge new, and probably haphazard, sources of funding, lest both icons suffer anyway. And as everyone knows, haphazard sources are the best kind.
So I’m left playing the grouchy Republican, the Scrooge-like figure croaking, “Don’t take my money.” However, I cannot support a plan so full of repeat taxes and likely augmentation. It would be like buying a BMW and just praying somewhere there’s $35,000 I can use. Sorry, Union Terminal, but however much I would love to have you, I would prefer to look in my wallet first.