Black Eye On Westerville- The Aftemath

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Black Eye On Westerville

Our dollars under assault from greedy governments

…He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people…imposing taxes on us without our consent…

Declaration of Independence- 1776

NEWSFLASH to all governing bodies! There is a finite limit of income that is available to be taxed. Theoretically it is 100% of income. Practically, it is a significantly lower percentage of income.

We only feel the need to point this fact out because it is clear that a new tidal-wave of taxation is currently being generated at all levels of government. The excuses are myriad. The effects will be devastating, as are all tax increases especially during economic downturns.

So why all the talk of tax increases when Westerville residents just voted themselves, a majority of them anyway, a 15% tax-cut? Well, not so fast. It is probably just a temporary reprieve if events in Columbus are any indicator.

During the recent Westerville Income tax increase campaign we asked the question repeatedly- What’s the next bite of the apple? When it became legal for cities to charge residents an income tax it was sold to residents initially as a very small bite of the apple which would eliminate the need for the hated (and unbiblical) city portion of the property tax and piggy-back sales taxes. Most municipalities went for a 0.25-0.5% income tax, promising that this would be more than enough to run the city in perpetuity. The cities would never have to ask for more to run at current levels of government. And that’s the rub. Governments used new revenues to grow far larger and more intrusive than any of those early residents who foolishly voted in income taxes could possibly have imagined.

Not so city planners, professional city managers and other government “experts” who have college degrees in such “progressive” fields as Urban Planning, Regional Governance, Public Affairs, etc. The dream of 19th century “progressive visionaries” is now the nightmare of 21st century urban and suburban tax-slaves. It has been only since the mid-20th century that progressives in small to medium-sized cities created and seized de facto control of zoning and planning commissions, which were originally promoted as bodies designed to protect the freedom of use and value of private property. In fact, they have become agents of modern-day government feudal lords, dictating such matters of grave importance as street curb-cuts (vital to the survival of businesses on a street; if you’re in doubt please examine the state of business in the Morse Rd and Rt. 161 “business” corridors in Columbus which have a system of virtually inaccessible “access” roads, another sign of city tyranny; these areas are also dying or virtually dead zones) grass length, the color of house paint used, the storage of boats and other extra vehicles, the type and placement of fences and even the replacement of hot-water heaters. This kind of intrusion costs money and bureaucracies must come up with new revenues to pay armies of bureaucratic “inspectors.” Hence the wave in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s of income-tax increases to the 1% level. Again, that was all that the cities would ever need.

As city governments continued to grow in size, cost and intrusiveness yet more revenue became necessary. And as the resistance to tax increases grows the tactics of city leadership becomes more sophisticated and demonstrative of their desire to thwart the will of a majority of taxpayers (as opposed to the majority of voters, an extremely important distinction). As this article in the Columbus Dispatch demonstrates, cities like Columbus and Westerville use a combination of “special” election dates, usually in August to minimize voter turnout, and targeting voters who are most likely to vote for tax increases and vote in every election no matter when (the dreadful PROS 2000 campaign in Westerville used an August “special election” date with the same targeted voter strategy). Selected quotes from the article-

On the night of the election, Coleman called it the most sophisticated campaign in which he had been involved…

Brad Sinnott, central committee chairman for the Franklin County Republican Party, said timing trumped strategy for tax-backers.

“There’s no doubt part of their strategy was to get this through in a low-turnout, midsummer election.”

Of course, the city denies that election timing is a legitimate complaint-

But city officials insist that they scheduled an August election not for political advantage but because they need the money now.

Of course, that argument crumbles under the weight of the revelation that voter turnout was not encouraged but that…

The campaign’s target audience was the small pool of voters who never miss an election, no matter what time of year it takes place.

Was the strategy successful? Clearly it was, since a grand total of 8.4% of the registered voters (52% of the 16.2% of registered voters, again, NOT taxpayers, who voted) in Columbus were able to impose a 25% tax increase on the residents of Columbus who pay taxes and, worse, non-resident taxpayers who are completely disenfranchised in municipal elections despite paying most of the taxes. And Columbus utilized the implied promise of continued expansion of social welfare spending to entice voters who pay little or nothing in taxes but receive the benefits to vote themselves largess from the public treasury.

As we have pointed out repeatedly here on this blog, cities long ago slipped into the same form of tyranny that American colonists so courageously resisted in the 1760’s through the 1780’s; over-regulation of the backbone of any economy, the small local business (a rapidly disappearing entity in Columbus), and taxation without representation. As noted in the quotations from the Declaration of Independence, taxes are being imposed without the consent of a significant percentage of the taxed. In fact, 42% of non-resident taxpayers (!) pay 53% (!) of Columbus income taxes (reference here) though they cannot vote and have no say in city government. Westerville’s numbers are similar.

What does this increase in Columbus mean to communities surrounding it? Since Westerville employed an absurd “Tax Fairness” argument, based on Westerville residents who had to pay Columbus and Westerville taxes, in their recent successful campaign to both increase the city income tax and shift the whole burden to a minority of taxpayers who both live and work in the city of Westerville (absurdity exposed here) it is conceivable that Westerville could come back to the voters to demand, in the name of “fairness,” that a new 25% tax increase MUST be passed by taxpayers (a majority of whom would be exempt from the increase, just like the last initiative). Since the city is busy using its windfall from the recent tax hike to hire zoning and planning “inspectors” and other bureaucrats to harass churches over building occupancy permits and businesses who want to remodel buildings for occupancy, buy every dilapidated or limited-use building that comes on the market thus squeezing even private small rental businesses aka taxpayers out of the market, just like they did, for instance, to the Westerville Athletic Club and taking them off the tax roles therefore cutting revenues, and otherwise throwing good money after bad on schemes that will destroy the business viability of the south side of town by imposing a Rt. 161 style “access” road ghetto upon its temporary occupants, it will probably find that it needs more revenue sooner than later and the “tax fairness” argument may have to be dusted off and modified for another run despite promises to the contrary. Think in terms of Westerville Public Schools who now claim they “need” nearly 8 additional  mills to run the new Taj Mahals they have recently built or between $400 and $600 additional dollars per year from the average Westerville School District homeowner.

What should be done about this mess? Well, the first step is at least being considered. The Columbus Dispatch reports here about a bill that would allegedly restrict the use of “special elections” for the purposes of getting around higher voter turnouts. We think the bill in question is Ohio House bill HB 260 but we don’t know for sure, since the atrociously written story in the Dispatch gives exactly NONE of the important details like the bill number, the sponsors or any serious attempt at analysis in depth.

The second and most important step will require, frankly, a great deal of time, effort and money to get done. The cities and those eager to use the current taxation structure of the cities for the purpose of confiscation and redistribution of wealth through disenfranchised taxation (taxation without representation) will never allow the next step without a major fight. That is, either allowing all TAXPAYERS into a city’s treasury the right to vote in city elections, including tax initiatives, and requiring a number of non-resident representatives in City Councils proportional to non-resident revenue derived or, more simply, outlawing the collection of taxes from those who have no say in city government. No city will be willing to swallow either option (they will immediately hide behind The Ohio Constitution’s “Home Rule” provision) without a fight and no state legislators, being political animals, have stepped up to offer any relief to agrieved taxpayers mostly because they are more frightened of the reactions of cities and corporate campaign donors than they are of the mostly quiescent taxpayers who aren’t currently raising a stink.

A state constitutional amendment initiative will almost undoubtedly be required to fix this. It would be a real down and dirty political slugfest, complete with charges of greed and racism. There would be no major corporate support, since major corporations rely on the tax abatements and other city bribes to buy their support and loyalty. When cities are restricted from collecting taxes from non-residents they will have to cancel the 100’s of millions of dollars in tax abatements that corporations enjoy statewide. Major corporations will put millions into the effort to stop the initiative. The campaign will be dirty and ugly. Corporatate management likes the idea that their employees are forced to pay their property taxes in their stead and without their consent.They hate the idea that employees might figure out that they operate on few if any property taxes while their employees are milked with the help of corporate management who donate to the campaign funds to pass the taxes. Politicians will line up at the corporate trough to collect money that will flow like water in an all out effort to stop the attempt to make them pay their property taxes. Many politicians that conservatives thought were their friends will be exposed as phoneys more interested in re-election than fighting the tough fight to restore truly fair taxation.

Here is a Columbus Dispatch article from late July indicating that 95% of Columbus Issue 1 campaign funds came from corporate donors, among them highly tax abated companies like Nationwide Insurance, Grange Mutual Insurance, Limited Brands, NetJets, Corna-Kokosing Construction, Wolfe Enterprises and, surprise, surprise the Dispatch Printing Company, not to mention several engineering firms, all of whom benefit while their employees suffer. The thousands they donated is a small investment against the millions they don’t pay in taxes. The same holds for smaller cities which line up corporate donations in order to maintain tax abatements.

We don’t tell you this to scare you away from the battle. We are being realistic. It will require real time and effort to get this problem fixed and there will be a lot of hard feelings and possibly jobs lost as employees are fired by major corporations for supporting the effort to make them pay the taxes they have maneuvered cities into waiving. It would have to be a true grass roots effort. Are you mad enough for that, yet?

Black Eye On Westerville- The “Tax Fairness” Argument

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Black Eye On Westerville

As this is being composed it is the weekend of the Fourth of July. Independence Day is always a good time to both reflect on the history of the Declaration of Independence and compare these past events with those in the present to see if we’ve got it right.

Currently, the most prominent argument being used by Westerville, apparently with some success judging by by the letters to the editors of the local newspapers, is the “tax fairness” argument.

The core of this argument is that the 60% income tax increase isn’t really about enhancing the city’s revenue, but about “being fair.” This is absurd on its face because in the next breath the same city leaders cry crocodile tears about the city’s infrastructure and the need for additional revenue to pay for it. But more about this blatant falsehood in a later post. In detail, the argument sounds like this; many surrounding communities have a 2% income tax and a large portion of Westerville residents work in those surrounding communities and must pay those taxes plus Westerville’s 1.25% additional resident income tax less a credit for taxes paid to other municipalities of 0.95% or, currently, 0.3%. So those Westerville residents are paying municipal income taxes that add up to 2.3% of their income.

The city also does some mathematical sleight-of-hand in claiming that they will, with this 60% increase, “recapture” millions of dollars in revenues that are currently “going to other municipalities.” Of course, they are recapturing nothing. They are actually increasing the overall tax burden and taking the millions of dollars that residents would have formerly had in their pockets to spend on things like books, hardware, housewares, meals out, etc. at local businesses and pouring it into the governmental black hole. The other municipalities would continue to confiscate the same amount of money (if not more) as they did before the increase. It is a well known economic maxim that a private dollar goes around 7 times but a government dollar only goes around twice. More money paid in taxes means less money for buying things. It’s a zero-sum game.

The city claims that to “be fair,” Westerville residents who both live and work in the city and non-resident employees of businesses located in the city must be forced to pay a 2% tax. Under the plan, Westerville residents who work in other cities will be given 100% credit for taxes paid in other municipalities, thus cutting their municipal tax outlay by about 13% from 2.3 to 2%. But, of course, someone has to pay the piper and that means Westerville residents and non-residents who work in Westerville are slapped with the 60% increase. It also means that Westerville residents who work in cities like Columbus would pay nothing for Westerville city services.

If you find yourself asking “how exactly is this fair?” then welcome to the club. There’s nothing “fair” about a tax plan that shifts the burden of taxation to a targeted minority of taxpayers, especially those who have no voice in how it is spent or vote on its imposition. And this is where comparisons to past events become very important to understanding what is wrong with not only the attempt to increase Westerville’s base tax rate but the way the entire municipal tax system is structured.

The Declaration of Independence issued on July 4, 1776 was the culmination of many years of abuse of power by Parliament. All of the complaints the Continental Congress made against Parliament are included in the Declaration of Independence, a document you will find most useful in this discussion, available here. As mentioned in the previous posting, the complaint we will focus on is no. 17, “For imposing taxes on us without our consent,” though other complaints on the list will also come into play.

How is it that only 232 years after the issue of a document that is foundational to the understanding of the concept of liberty (a concept now lost to the “spirit of democracy;” these are not the same by any stretch or deconstruction of the definitions), the operation and the limits of our government, so little of it is known or understood, especially by government servants? One of the fundamental principles of government in the United States of America is the idea that no one without a representative voice in any government should be required to pay taxes to that government. Another fundamental principle of government in the United States is the concept that the majority is prohibited by law from tyrannizing the minority. And yet, these two fundamental principles of liberty are being not only ignored but disparaged by government bodies eager to grow their own power and control and to do so by creating and exploiting class envy to raise revenue and create a class of tax slaves.

Think the “tax slave” accusation is too harsh? Think about the city’s argument for the increase. Most, they say, will actually enjoy a tax reduction and they are correct if they mean most voters. And that’s exactly what they mean. Non-resident non-voters don’t count in the equation. They are a voiceless non-entity to the city. They are perceived by city government as a convenient deep pocket which can be picked at the will of the Westerville voter. The fact that some of these non-voting taxpayers will now be subjected to combined municipal taxes in the 4% range (or more depending on where he lives and what kind of work he does) doesn’t phase them. Why should it? These unfortunates can’t vote the city leaders out. They can only pay and complain to… well, no one. When a man with no voice or power is coerced to surrender the hard earned fruits of his labor to an entity which has the power to impose financial harm or ruin and imprisonment for refusal to pay, he is a slave. That was the point of the Continental Congress way back in the late 18th century. The more things change the more they stay the same.

A man is also a slave if he has a voice in the system but can be forced to surrender the fruits of his labor to subsidize the services that others receive from the entity collecting the payments by a vote of the majority. This kind of system, in effect, gags his voice within the taxing entity. That’s what is happening in Westerville and has been since 1998 with the PROS 2000 tax increase. The city wants the majority of voting taxpayers who work outside the city to vote their own self-interest by promising them an overall tax cut.

In effect, Westerville residents who work outside the city will receive a net tax cut under the city’s new tax plan. All they have to do to accomplish this is shift their personal tax burden onto the backs of their neighbors who are foolish enough to both live and work in Westerville and the completely powerless non-resident taxpayers. Thus, the city increases tax revenue by using the lever of tax-relief and the fulcrum of taxation class envy to shift the burden to a powerless minority taxpayer base. The chains of tax slavery are being forged on the anvil of “tax fairness.”

The city’s argument for a tax shift and increase is shown to be among the grossest and most cynical kinds of propaganda, designed to play on the emotions of self-interest and tax-envy rather than the abstract intellectual concept of liberty. It is clear that true tax fairness can only be achieved by fairly and equally spreading the legitimate costs of city government on the residents of the city and on the businesses which own property here, exempting non-residents from the burden of paying for the services residents enjoy.

Large businesses should pay their fair share of taxes because they are large consumers of city services in the form of water, sewer, garbage collection, streets and sidewalks, etc. What about their voice in government? That’s pretty easy actually, and it’s a matter of personal choice. Any large business, if they want a voice in local government, could require some of its management personnel to live in the city limits. That would be good both for the business and the city. City residents are far less likely to propose hare-brained schemes which will, in the long run, harm their own property values or the city’s environment. Absentee ownership doesn’t have the same incentive. The government of the city of Westerville seems incapable of making this elementary political calculation.

And yet the city of Westerville, as discussed in the first article in this series, clings to the failed paradigm that businesses must be bribed with 50-100% tax abatements in order to remain “progressive” and keep the businesses “in the tax base.” Of course what they really mean that they want to keep the businesses’ employees in the tax base. The city leaders don’t seem to realize that large, often absentee owned and operated businesses that aren’t willing to pay their share of the tax burden don’t really care for the city at all. They care for big quarterly profits which impress stockholders (by the way, nothing wrong with profit when it is gained legitimately. Accepting a pay-off in the form of a tax abatement is not legitimate, especially when it is gained on the backs of your employees). That’s what makes the slap in the face of a 60% tax increase for local owners of small local businesses such a travesty; the small local business owner is the backbone of the community socially and economically. The large absentee business is a disproportionately expensive and subsidized consumer of city services. And yet the city, in the interest of additional revenue for the purpose of growing city government beyond its legitimate bounds, is willing to shift the tax burden to the local businessman.

We will be expanding on the concept of what a legitimate cost of government in the next entry.

Black Eye On Westerville- Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Black Eye On Westerville

Many of the thinkers reading this might ask the questions a journalist is supposed to be trained to ask, though most don’t anymore because it’s more satisfying to try to steer the events than to just report them. So what questions do I mean? They are: who?; what?; where?; when?; why?; how?

First things first. Who. The “who” is the City of Westerville Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. “What” it’s all about is a proposed 60% city income tax increase. Yes, that’s what I said. A 60% income tax increase. From a base rate of 1.25% to 2%. The “when” is this November. Normally Westerville likes to run these kind of elections during the off-season primary times or, better yet, special elections when far fewer people vote and often only hear about the issue when they notice there’s less money in their paychecks. That’s exactly what Westerville did in 1998. It held a special election in August 1998, when almost no one was paying attention, for the so-called PROS 2000 tax increase. That one was less audacious, being only a 25% tax increase.

That increase was used for the purposes of buying privately owned land, removing that land from the tax pool, and turning it into park land, eliminating the revenue it formerly generated. The money was also used to build a grossly overpriced white elephant “community center” which is really a fancy subsidized health club. Full memberships (and someone has yet to explain satisfactorily to this author why memberships are required to a “community-owned” facility in the first place) to Westerville’s Community Center are far too pricey for the average Westerville resident, who must pay on a “per-use” basis to use a facility he was forced to provide tax dollars to build and operate via the tyranny of the majority of voters in an election that had an exceptionally small turnout. And some facilities in the community-owned building are only available to members. Like the weight room, for instance.

There’s a name for a system of taxation where a group can force another to provide a portion of the fruits of their labor to subsidize its own lifestyle. It’s called tax slavery. And it’s the result of a “majority” of poorly informed citizens tyrannizing the minority. This is a perfect example of democracy (as opposed to a republican government limited by law) in action. And what about private businesses that must compete in a taxpayer-subsidized market? Ask the owners of the Westerville Athletic Club (WAC) which was driven out of business because it could not compete in this kind of market. The city made sure WAC couldn’t compete by refusing them a tax abatement (not enough non-resident jobs promised, you see) which made the continued operation of the private club untenable. But more on this travesty in a later part of the series.

The “where” is a formerly small and quiet suburban college town northeast of Columbus Ohio. I say “formerly” because the city fathers (and mothers) decided that Westerville needed to “grow and change with the times” and adopted city planning on an Italian model. The model in question has received high praise in the past from officials in the federal government who have employed something quite similar for some time and has been adopted by the vast majority of cities in the United States. In that model, government and business form “partnerships” supposedly for the overall benefit of the residents but, in reality, shifting the tax burden from the large businesses to the employees that those large businesses bring into the city. Those non-residents are then forced to pay city income tax to cover the costs of “necessary services” while the large businesses who hold property, which is worth millions of dollars per year in property taxes, are given large tax abatements of 50-100% for given periods, often 10 or 20 years. At the end of these terms the large businesses are given the opportunity to up the ante with more employees. Faced with the loss of subsidy, many simply leave the jurisdiction, leaving the city and its former employees holding the bag. By the way, small businesses are not eligible for this arrangement. So the small local businessman is at a huge disadvantage in an economic model where the number of non-resident employees brought in equals proportionally larger revenue to the city and, therefore, 50-100% property tax breaks for large businesses which are often absentee owned. What effect does this have on a city? It says to the small businessman, the one who keeps a downtown area vital, “drop dead, we don’t need you.”

The advantage to the government in this model is that thousands of non-residents are forced to contribute a disproportionate amounts of their labor to the city, yet are not allowed representation or a voice in how the money is spent. Taxation without representation, as the the founding fathers shortened the 17th complaint in the Declaration of Independence. The city that hosts the business only provides a fraction of the services to these non-residents that they do for the businesses and residents, so it is quite a boon for the city government which then, usually, uses the extra revenue to grow government, for the “good” of the residents, of course. The burden of the large remainder of “necessary services” is left mostly to surrounding cities which extract yet more of the fruits of labor from their hapless residents who work in other communities, providing a laughably small “credit” for taxes paid to another jurisdiction. Large businesses pay little or nothing beyond normal fees for the privilege of using the cities service infrastructure, a large percentage of which is necessary precisely because of the large businesses themselves.

This system creates tremendous strain on the infrastructure of small to medium-sized cities and when large subsidized businesses accept the income taxpayer funded tax abatement and subsidy bribes offered by other communities to expand their own taxpayer base, cities which cannot offer competing subsidies are left with large unoccupied tracts of industrial and/or office space ghettos which then require even more taxpayer subsidies to “redevelop” the property, which was more often than not originally developed under taxpayer subsidy. Thus, a vicious incrementally increasing cycle of tax-subsidize-tax-subsidize is created to “keep cities growing.” This is where Westerville now finds itself.

By the way that Italian model has a name. We’re sure you’ve heard of it. It was lauded as the model for the Roosevelt administration policy in its early days, by no less than Woodrow Wilson’s “alter-ego” and Roosevelt operative Col. Edward Mandell House. The Italian model in question is the economic fascism of Benito Mussolini’s Italy of the 1920’s-1940’s.

Now the “why” question. There are dozens of cities in Ohio and probably hundreds or thousands throughout the country who will try to get income tax increases past voters this fall. So why Westerville? Because the author of this series lives there. And it’s easier for the author to get information about the shenanigans of Westerville’s city “leaders” from local newspapers and cable outlets than it would in, say, Resume Speed Ohio’s or some other place’s. And the tactics and vacuous arguments we will chronicle here will be nearly identical to those used in your city. So stay in contact and hopefully you will learn how to refute or combat them.

The “how” question is what this series is all about. How the city will fight its end of the the battle and how Westerville residents who oppose the increase will fight the battle. Keep watching this space.