Sunday, June 8, 2008
Transportation Sales Tax and Broken Promises
Voters approved a one-half cent Transportation Sales Tax in 2003. They also approved a General Obligation Bond earmarked for transportation at the same election. Both taxes had a five-year sunset provision. The voters extended the Transportation Sales Tax in 2007. The General Obligation Bonds were allowed to expire and not replaced with a new tax. When the 2007 – 2008 budget was written, then City Finance Director Dan Estes did not include the final payment for the bonds in the budget until after all other budgetary matters were considered. When it became clear that the funds had not been set aside for repayment of the bonds, tax dollars from the 2007-2008 Transportation Sales Tax were tapped to retire the debt. Since the money had already been spent, street overlay and maintenance was severely cutback. Some at City Hall are saying that this scenario shows that sales tax dollars were properly spent on transportation. The spin on that statement is so radical that it makes you dizzy. Sure, a good chunk of the Transportation Tax was used to pay off the debt of bonds used to improve streets. But that was not the promise made to the voters when they approved the one-half cent sales tax for transportation. The official explanation given by City Hall on why streets are not being repaired is less than honest. The simple truth is that the ball was dropped when the 2007 – 2008 budget was written. Sales tax dollars earmarked for street maintenance was spent to retire bond indebtedness – period. The bottom line is the voters were promised their tax dollars would go to pay a guaranteed annual outlay of money for street improvements. That promise was broken when the Board of Aldermen voted to use Sales Tax Transportation dollars to pay off general obligation bonds. The bureaucratic machinery at City Hall needs to stop with this smoke and mirrors type of justification for its actions. It fools no one. This type of short-sighted thinking hurts our city’s image and rips away the trust the voters have in their elected officials. It also questions the ability of City Hall to manage the most basic purpose of any city -- maintaining our city’s infrastructure. The Administration erred when it tapped the Transportation Sales Tax to pay off bond debt. A mistake was made. It must not be repeated. City Hall should learn a lesson and keep a better handle on tax expenditures, particularly those that are tied to promises made to voters. The Board of Aldermen should learn from this mistake and take steps to make certain it does not happen again. The Walmart Test . . . Soon the Board will have a chance to put that lesson to the test. A new Walmart is planned for construction on 350 Highway. Part of the money that funds the TIF for the center comes from the one-half cent Transportation Sales Tax. To keep faith with the voters in Raytown, the Board of Aldermen should make certain that sales tax dollars derived from the Transportation Sales Tax are replaced by other city revenue. If they do not, look for a decrease of up 18% of money spent on street improvements for the next 23 years. Speaking of Walmart . . . Does anyone know when the groundbreaking is supposed to take place? I am on the Board of Aldermen and have not been able to find out! So, let’s have a contest. Send in your predictions of the date and time the ground-breaking for the new Walmart Center. The winner of the contest will receive recognition for his or her precognitive ability on this blog and a ten dollar gift certificate from the new Walmart Store when it opens.