Taxes Go Up Incrementally; Why Shouldn’t They Go Down Incrementally?
Let me start by saying that I love the St. Louis Business-Journal and read it every week. It plays a great role in our community and does it very well. They are also generous to SMI, carrying our op-eds at times including today which we greatly appreciate.
That said, I have to strongly and respectfully disagree with their editorial today. I can’t link to it, because it’s not available on-line, so you’ll just have to trust me on the quotes. In short, they commend the St. Louis County Council for NOT lowering the tax rate by 2 cents, as was proposed by Councilman Greg Quinn. They state that it demonstrated political courage NOT to lower taxes, dismissing the notion of saving homeowners $7.60 per year, on average. They write:
Hefty increases in property taxes throughout the county have fueled a taxpayer revolt. If the council decides to dramatically reduce property taxes, the action should come as part of a studied budget plan that would include new sources of revenue to balance the monies raised by property tax.
So if you are going to cut property taxes, make certain that you raise other taxes, to keep overall tax revenue the same even if the property tax increases are the result of reassessment, which (and this is the key) are not supposed to raise taxes. The editorial buys into the popular government notion that everything government does is so important that it should never reduce services, or even just hold back the growth rate of services.
It is not "pandering," as the editorial says, to slightly roll back property tax rates for citizens. As the title of this post says, taxes rise incrementally (a slight sales tax increase for fireman pensions here, a property tax increase from reassessment there, a business license fee hike tomorrow) so why shouldn’t they decrease incrementally? Especially when they result from reassessment, which I repeat is NOT supposed to result in a tax increase.
St. Louis County government is not legally required to roll back its rate, which is far enough below the authorized cap. The fact that the rate is low is a good thing, but it is really just a loophole in the law. It does not mean they should treat assessment increases as a windfall every year, dismissing a moral obligation to roll back rates. A small rollback says to taxpayers that the county understands the reassessment tax increases people face, and is going to address the issue responsibly not just take all the new tax money and spend it.
It is not politically courageous to refuse to lower tax rates. St. Louis County has an obligation to lead by example, demonstrating to the many other nearby taxing districts that a rollback after reassessment is the right thing to do, even if it’s not required.