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The misguided view of those who want a sales tax increase

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I have a friend who is nine times out of 10 on the same page with me. Yesterday we had one of those rare moments where we disagreed.

It was over the prospect of St. Lawrence County raising its 3 percent sales tax to 4 percent.

I can respect his argument for it. He, like me, is a property owner who feels his taxes are already too high. He thinks the sales tax is a fairer way for the county to raise revenues because everyone would pay it, property owner or not. If it’s a choice between raising property taxes and raising the sales tax, he would go for a sales tax hike any day of the week.

I can respect his arguments. But that doesn’t mean he’s right.

County officials seem to have a lot of people convinced that if the sales tax is raised, they will enjoy lower property taxes. Maybe I’ve just grown too cynical over the years, but I firmly believe that once the extra money comes in, government will find an urgent need on which to spend it. Our property taxes will still go up.

Even if you just think I’m being cynical, consider this: when Jefferson County raised its sales tax about 10 years ago, the property tax levy stabilized for a couple of years before it again started to rise.

I don’t think squeezing St. Lawrence County residents more while a lot of them are already worried about making ends meet is worth the prospect of only a couple of years of property tax stabilization. Considering that our county has fewer places that collect sales tax than Jefferson County, that prospect is probably close to the absolute best case scenario and far from the level of property tax relief we can actually expect.

It’s going to have dire consequences for our fragile economy, especially when you consider the incredibly likely prospect that the minimum wage will be raised in the near future. A sales tax increase on top of a minimum wage hike - which is greatly needed for low-wage workers - is bad news for consumers and retailers.

While I might be getting up on my public soapbox to demonstrate why my friend is wrong, he is not the only misguided soul out there. The St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce said in a recent news release that its board of directors thinks raising the sales tax is a good idea.

I can’t believe that an organization with a mission to protect the business community favors any plan to increase prices consumers will pay for their wares. I have yet to find a retailer who doesn’t think it will negatively affect his or her business. Car dealerships are chief among them.

We already have a tenuous hold on the dwindling number of retailers we have. Forcing them to make their customers pay more will make a bad situation worse.

Chamber officials are obviously buying the line county government is trying to sell us about how poor the county is and how lawmakers have no choice but to raise revenues.

Chamber officials obviously didn’t notice that the county, while slapping us with a pretty steep property tax increase this year because it’s so poor, just gave raises to its top earners, including those making a salary within the $100,000 range.

They haven’t noticed that the county has failed to make tough decisions about cutting its nonmandated services. They haven’t noticed that the county has failed to put sufficient pressure on the state to reform programs like Medicaid that carry a significant local cost. They haven’t noticed that despite crying about its financial troubles, the county has caved in to pressure to keep funding services it can no longer afford, instead of pooling resources with communities that provide the same services. Highway and law enforcement are two areas that carry significant county costs. Lawmakers haven’t talked about how the county can work with communities that also offer those services to share manpower and costs, and it’s a discussion that needs to be had. Instead, they bow to pressure to keep an expensive, inefficient status quo.

My friend obviously didn’t notice those things, either. Knowing him as I do, I think there’s still hope for him to come to senses. I just hope the rest of the misguided can do the same and convince county lawmakers to abandon this destructive plan before they put the last nail in our economy’s coffin.

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