Tax hikes need justification, not emotion

The recent mention of a ballot measure to provide public funds for helping needy veterans and the homeless brings to mind Casey Stengel’s question, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

Competition among programs for public funds is unavoidable, so the first thing to do is admit that providing more revenue for one or a few programs also affects the amount of funding available for others.

In the case of the county’s Veterans Relief Fund, the competition is obvious because the levy limit applies to the aggregate amount levied for the General Fund, the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Funds and the Veterans Relief Fund.

Since there is a finite number of dollars that can be collected without exceeding the levy limit, any amount put into the Veterans Relief Fund cannot go into one of the others.

If the voters approve a levy lid lift for one or more purposes like providing additional revenue that is required to help indigent veterans, the other funds would also have more revenue available for their programs.

Without the lid lift, General Fund programs would get less revenue from the county’s property tax in 2012, since the amount levied for indigent veterans has to be increased.

The required increase for the Veterans Relief Fund is the result of doing more in the past few years than had been done before.

If more revenue from the county’s levy isn’t put into the Veterans Relief Fund in 2012, the program will have to be cut back.

Unfortunately some people who have a tendency to go on the attack mistakenly claim that the reason more levy revenue is needed in the fund to help indigent veterans is because no new levy revenue was added to the fund last year.

They don’t know how to play the game, either, but their ignorance doesn’t keep them from trying to start a donnybrook.

When faced with declining revenue in 2009, the county commissioners had to choose between making a cut of about $300,000 in programs supported by the General Fund or letting the Veterans Relief Fund get by without new levy revenue in 2010.

Adding no new levy revenue to the fund had no impact on the program’s assistance to needy veterans in 2010 or this year, since the fund had a beginning balance of more than $950,000 in 2010.

Putting another $300,000 into the Veterans Relief Fund wouldn’t have provided more assistance to needy veterans, but it would have reduced what could be done in other programs supported by the General Fund.

Putting no new levy revenue into the Veterans Relief Fund simply made it necessary to increase the amount put into the fund in 2012 rather than 2013.

The need for a levy increase was coming, because the reorganized program to help indigent veterans was spending more than before as it helped more veterans than before.

Now the time for a revenue increase is almost upon us, and the only question is whether the increase will come from a lid lift or by taking funds away from other programs.

Getting voter approval for a lid lift requires explaining the reason to the voters, not just playing on their sympathies with an appeal for needy veterans, the homeless, etc.

And if voters are going to give the benefit of the doubt to the commissioners who put the measure on the ballot, the explanation the commissioners rely on has to be readily available to voters early in the game.

Two wonderful inventions can be used to make the explanation available to voters so they can determine whether the commissioners seem to be making a reasonable proposal.

The inventions are writing and arithmetic.

Anyone who wants to play this game has to show us the numbers and the rationale for the proposed increase.

Time is short, but people who have been considering the need for a tax increase ought to be able to provide the justification — unless, of course, they really cannot play this game.

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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