In the last several days I have been approached by a number of people who are wondering how I'm voting on the local option sales tax. On Saturday I spoke with Congressman Dave Loebsack who supports the measure in part because it allows federal and local funds to be used for the mitigation of flooding. He said that some folks who are against the tax point to the stimulus money and say it is all that is needed. He pointed out that the stimulus money works as a match to local funds and that folks against the tax are mistaken to think that federal dollars will do it all.
Also on Saturday I had a similar conversation with county supervisor Rod Sullivan who is supporting the tax, but who told me that those who say that the sales tax is shared by "out of towners" are correct, but so too are property taxes as our area has many out of town property owners. I did say to him that renters actually end up paying those taxes, so it isn't exactly an apples to apples argument. But his point is still taken.
Friday I briefly spoke to multi-time candidate for city council, Brandon Ross who is against the sales tax because it is unfair to make poor people pay for Dubuque Road being raised. And it is true that the poor would pay a share of the tax, but on the other hand, two area trailer parks were flooded out last year and the poor were affected adversely too.
A local environmentalist and two-time county supervisor candidate, Tom Carsner, who is not supporting the tax, believes that all sales taxes are regressive and that even though this one has a sunset of four years to it, it still should be voted down. Strange coming from a Environmental Advocate.
As for me, I have been conflicted on which way to vote. Generally, I agree that sales taxes are the most regressive form of taxation, but when a natural disaster occurs, do you hold a general principle up over what is better for the public good?
And what is the public good? Clearly flooding is not in the public good or poor infrastructure. If you are concerned about the environment, the poor, commerce, and/or appropriate use of tax monies, this vote benefits many people. The plans were jointly devised in consultation with some of the best hydrologists in the world. As was explained to me, the problem last summer was backflow. That the water couldn't move fast enough downstream as to keep water from backing up and flooding Cedar Rapids, Coralville and so on.
One key point of backup was at the Park Road Bridge. I listened as city engineer Rick Fosse, whose job prior to working for the city was flood mitigation, explained to a group of us how the raising of the bridge would have allowed water to flow downstream better and could have conceivably reduced the amount of flooding both in Coralville and the Normandy Drive and Foster Road areas.
Another thing that is not in the public interest is to have raw sewage flowing into the Iowa River, which is already one of the most polluted waterways in the Midwest. When the "north" treatment plant was flooded out, the sewage did wash into the river.
Lastly, it is not in our best interest to have of freshwater wells contaminated. While all the wells did not get contaminated, reinforcing those wells will be a very good use of public monies.
At the end of the day, we have limited choices about how to fund these $86 million projects. Right now we have the leverage of FEMA and stimulus package funds being available to us. If the tax is voted down, it will mean that either other capital projects go nowhere and the projects are paid for that way over a much longer period of time or, more likely, in raised water bills and/or property taxes. This way at least there is a time limit and we all share the burden. It isn't an ideal situation, but pragmatically, it is what is best for the most.