Thursday, October 25, 2012


In 2009 the people of Lyon County passed a one cent sales tax. The strategic aim of the increase was property tax relief, with a five year sunset.

Today, many of us are facing property tax increases instead of relief. Emporia and Lyon County are caught in a downward spiral of low wages, population decreases, and high poverty rates. Our local labor situation is in a state of dangerous limbo, with the prospects of 450 of our fellow citizens hanging by a thread.

Ten years ago the unemployment rate in Lyon County was 5%. In July of this year the county’s unemployment rate stood at 6.3%. In 2002 Emporia’s population was 26,666. Today it’s 24,971, and the labor force reductions at Tyson can’t account for all the people who are leaving. For the past ten years inflation has been rising. Goods or services that cost a hundred dollars back then now cost a hundred and twenty-seven. Have our wages kept up with inflation? In 2002, our average annual household income was $30,809. Today, it’s $32, 179. Inflation’s up by 27%. Incomes have increased by 4.4%. It’s a recipe for disaster.   In 2002, the property tax mill levy for an Emporia resident was 147.62. With the recent increase approved by the county commissioners, it will soon be a bit north of 166 mills, a double digit increase.  Our poverty rate in 2002 was 17.9%. That was bad, but nothing compared to the 26.9% rate we’re at today. Think of it. About three in ten of our fellow citizens are living at or below the poverty line.

In the face of this grim news, our leaders are asking us to approve a ten year sales tax. They talk about a never-ending stream of tax dollars for infrastructure projects and quality of life. All around the county, the politicians and bureaucrats are marching in lock step, with their hats in their hands, telling us we must do with less so they can have more.  Commissioners talk about pull factor (ours is actually 7% below the average for first class Kansas cities) as if were a silver bullet. They can’t seem to see, or refuse to see, how hard it is for those living on low or fixed incomes to pull their respective loads in this environment. They threaten us with even higher property taxes if we vote the sales tax down. When those of us who are against the tax increase make recommendations, we’re told our proposals won’t make much of a dent or that they’re not reasonable. We’re honestly mystified. If a judge can rule that an 8% wage cut for 450 Lyon Countians is reasonable, we believe that pay cuts for high dollar city and county  managers are every bit as reasonable. When we bring up the RDA, the golf course, Humvees, overtime, the possibility of eliminating layers of management with self-managed workgroups, they dig their heels in and say, “No!” We’re really mystified. We believe a few dents are in order. They tell us we’re cutting off our noses to spite our faces. We say they’re cutting the legs of their neediest constituents off at the knees.

 Our leaders tell us they’re listening, but they’re not. They labor under the false assumption that we can tax our way out of the hole we’ve been digging for years.

 Well, we can’t! The record is clear on that.

Those of us who oppose the sales tax have good, factual reasons for our opposition. First, it’s regressive. It hurts those who can afford it least. There are no exemptions in this measure for food, prescription drugs, or clothing that those living on low or fixed incomes must pay a greater share of their income on. Second, in tough times government also needs to learn how to make do with a lot less. If 450 of us must face the prospect of 8% less, why shouldn’t our government? Third, lower tax rates stimulate economic growth. The City of Dalton, GA, for example, came upon hard times a few years back. They lowered their sales tax rate from 7% to 5%. A year later sales tax revenues increased by 9.3%! Fourth, we’re told that government is tightening its belt. Really? The City of Emporia’s general ledger expenses have increased by about 10% since 2009. They’re projected to increase by another 11% above the 2012 levels in 2013. The county’s total expenses increased by 7% between 2011 and 2012. Do they really want us to believe that’s belt tightening?
Finally, we intend to keep the attention of our political leaders riveted on the people after the votes are counted. We will not go away. We will do everything in our power to see that our government responds to the brutal realities so many of us must face every day!

No comments: