Commentary: Don't like new taxes? Voter, blame thyself!

July 2, 2007

A lot of people across Marion County are going to be upset this month as their property tax bills start landing on their doorsteps. Taxes are expected to increase an average of 24 percent.

Although that means there will be some people with tax increases much less, there will be a lot more with increases way above that number. I've already heard stories of 30-percent increases in tax bills, 50-percent increases, and one poor soul told me he got a 70-percent hike. One official I spoke to (who asked not to be named) said "there will be blood in the streets" when the tax bills arrive.

By my estimate, and this is conservative, by the time the bodies hit the floor, Marion County taxpayers are staring down the barrel of more than $200 million in new taxes. My critics tell me my math is wrong and my figures have no basis in reality. Well, let's do a little math and see who lives in the real world.

Mayor Bart Peterson is asking for $85 million for public safety. The county option income tax is going up another scheduled 1/10 of 1 percent, which generates about $15 million. Throw in another $49 million the county has to make in new child welfare payments. The loss of the inventory tax is shifting the tax burden over to the residential taxpayer. There's trending, which includes several years of assessments. And Marion County is also losing state-funded property tax-replacement credits. Add it all up and if the number stays at $200 million in new taxes, I'll be surprised.

The taxpayers are getting a triple whammy. Not only are property taxes rising, but they'll also have to pay more in income taxes, and no one knows how much of a rebate taxpayers will get come November from the expansion of gambling.

So whom should voters blame for this mess?

As much as I would like to blame the elected officials who navigated this county into the financial iceberg that caused all this by spending too much of your hard-earned money, I can't. I blame the voters who put them there.

The voters are ultimately responsible for the mess Marion County is in, because they chose the leadership. Whether it was the self-induced sight-impaired voter who walks into the voting booth year after year and punches straight ticket, or the voter who goes in and randomly picks a name on a ballot, or the voter who exercises so much apathy that he stays home and chooses not to participate. They are all responsible.

If you didn't go to a City-County Council meeting, if you ignored your school board, if you never held any elected official accountable, you're responsible.

As the old saying goes, "We get the kind of government we deserve." And we're definitely getting it. The blame can be spread evenly among Republicans and Democrats. The high taxes are coming because the government spends too much. The government spends too much because the people will not elect individuals who spend less.

We have no problem returning the same people to office time and time again who were responsible for the mess in the first place. And we are too lazy or too stupid to make a change. Of course, once all the bills come due, change may be all we have left in our pockets.

The chickens have come home to roost, and this time they've got a bill for more than $200 million in new taxes. And since the voters did nothing to stop them, they've earned every penny of that tax increase.

Shabazz is the morning show host on WXNT-AM 1430 and of counsel at the law firm of Lewis & Wilkins. His column appears monthly. He can be reached by e-mail at ashabazz@ibj.com
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