Municipal Advocacy With Your Money?
A recurring issue in local government in Missouri is when cities, school districts, and other entities improperly use taxpayer money to advocate for tax increases on the ballot. Now, of course, they don’t say they advocate. They say they are only giving out neutral information, which can be allowed. But there are plenty of examples of what appears to be outright advocacy. When you read pieces like this, do you really think the language is unbiased and that an ordinary voter would not take the information as supporting the tax increase? From the piece:
How can a Use Tax benefit my community?
As internet purchases increase, local revenues decrease. Funds generated from the Use Tax can be used to pay for vital municipal services including Police, Parks, and Public Works services.
You will note there is no opposing argument mentioned. If you read this and truly think it is neutral, I imagine you are the type of person who really tried to remain friends with your ex-girlfriend when they dumped you in order to “just be friends.” Hint: the pieces aren’t neutral, your ex really didn’t want to be friends, and it really was you, not them.
Show-Me Institute researchers have filed Sunshine Law requests with two cities that have use taxes on the ballot on April 5: Chesterfield and Town & Country. These two cities are using tax dollars to expend money to promote passing use taxes. They have information on their websites now and it appears more is coming between now and the election. We are hoping to learn about the process to determine the validity of the cities’ expenditures in favor of providing neutral information about the use tax. Chesterfield and Town & Country are certainly not the only two cities doing this.
For the record, there are arguments in favor of use taxes. You can also make the case that, absent alternate tax cuts, they are a tax increase. Either way, using public money under the pretense of “providing information only” has got to stop. Much more to come on this from Institute analysts in the coming days.