Thoughtful Letter About the Sin Tax

cautionI saw a letter in the Citizen (keysnews.com) supporting the “sin tax” today.  It was written in response to an earlier editorial, which was skeptical about the “sin tax”.

Let me start by saying it’s only right and proper to look after the less fortunate in our communities.  From that perspective I have no issue with the concept of the “sin tax”.  But context is everything.Let’s not forget that the “sin tax” is an outgrowth of the Emergency Services Surtax (ESS).  The idea was that fire and emergency services would be paid for with a sales tax instead of property taxes.  Since the sales tax would raise more money than was needed to pay for fire and emergency services, the remaining $6 million or so would be used to fund human services.

Unfortunately, the ESS came with a lot of baggage.

  • County officials lied about the impact of the ESS on locals.  Kevin Madok, who authored a “white paper” in support of the ESS (and who is now running for Clerk of Court), claimed that locals pay 100% of property taxes.  Untrue.  They pay about half.  Not only that, locals are protected from escalating property taxes by “save our homes” provisions and homestead exemptions.  Not so with sales taxes.
  • Madok’s “white paper” also claimed that locals would only pay another $125 per year in sales tax because of the ESS.  Another lie.  In fact, if the county’s own numbers are accurate, this is mathematically impossible.  An additional 1% sales tax would raise about $34 million per year.  If locals contribute 40%, that’s about $13.6 million.  According to the Census Bureau, there are roughly 30,000 households in the Keys.  That works out to about $450 per year, not $125.  Not only that, the $400+ figure is corroborated by an independent report.
  • Those are the two biggest whoppers.  But there are others – including wonky math that overstates the benefit to homeowners in Marathon and Islamorada.
  • While most locals, especially renters, would pay more overall, Comm. Carruthers, who proposed this tax “shift”, stood to benefit as did her major campaign donors.  The “white paper” failed to mention that little detail.  Madok would have come out ahead a little bit himself – maybe $100.  Nothing worth lying over.

The county lied about the ESS, egregiously and repeatedly.  Not only that, the county is already negligently irresponsible with taxpayer money.  I don’t see how they can they be trusted with even more.

I think many questions need to be answered before this matter is put to the voters.

  • How much will be raised?
  • How will it be spent?
  • How much will locals really contribute?  And the county needs to be honest for a change.
  • Will this tax be in addition to property taxes?  Or will it offset property taxes?
  • Will services be distributed fairly throughout the Keys?  How do we know?  Does the county do an honest assessment to determine where the needs are?
  • Why is this new tax being proposed when there are already sales taxes for indigent care on the books?

This is one of those things that I really want to support.  But I also know there’s an excellent chance that the money won’t make it to those in need anyway.  It’ll burn a hole in some sleazy county official’s pocket.  That seems to be why the ESS was proposed in the first place, and the “sin tax” is an offshoot of that.

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