Saturday, June 20, 2009

Don't tax you, don't tax me. . . .

To read the comments on newspaper stories is to understand why the Founding Fathers gave us a representative democracy, not a direct one.

Basically, Americans always want something for nothing. They also think you don't have to spend money to make money. And, of course, a people hooked on iPhones, three cars in the driveway, plasma TVs and credit-card debt can't help but lecture city fathers about living within one's means.

So, when the Omaha World-Herald
reported Saturday that the city is facing another $11 million shortfall next fiscal year, that the city budget already has been cut to the bone and that something drastic will have to be done, folks were quick to denounce being "taxed to death." Well, that and the new downtown baseball stadium.

is pretty typical:

What was the city thinking of when they approved the new stadium, the Qwest center,and annexing Elkhorn. Obviously the city of Omaha can't afford these. We are not a big city like Chicago, or New York. Omaha is just a little hick city in Nebraska. Why are we trying to be like the big guys. We didn't need a new stadium. Rosenblatt has served well over the years, and should have been maintained all along. We have the Civic Auditorium and that should have been sufficient. Also it cost a lot more for city services out west in Elkhorn. They should have been left alone, providing their own services. Plus the services they now receive and not near as good as Elkhorn was providing. I also disagree that the nation should mandate the update of sewer systems, however I know that is out of Omaha's control. Mayor Fahey did a lot of damage to the city's financial picture, and it seems as if Jim Suttle is not doing any better so far. We can't afford these things and now us taxpayers are going to have to pay. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people and businesses move out of Omaha, because just like us, we can' afford the high taxes.
UNSUPRISINGLY, the combox warriors' bile seems not to be exactly reality-based. Here, from the World-Herald, is the problem Omaha actually faces:
Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle met with business leaders Friday to outline possible tax hikes — including new taxes on entertainment and workers — as ways to resolve the city's budget crisis.

While Suttle didn't say he had decided in favor of any tax increase, his message was that Omaha would be hard-pressed to avoid one at a time of slumping revenues.

Sales tax revenues this year are expected to drop for the first time. Meanwhile, the property tax base is not growing significantly. Sales and property taxes are the city's main revenue sources.

As a result, the city already is cutting $14 million from the current budget, although a large portion of that depends on a wage freeze that has yet to be negotiated with the city's unions.

For 2010, when the revenue slump is expected to continue, city officials are projecting an $11 million shortfall in the amount needed to maintain city services.

Suttle is considering additional spending cuts that would close the gap, including ending yard waste pickup, closing three libraries and allowing police staffing to shrink by not hiring new recruits.

But Suttle is also looking at raising revenue in 2010 with one of the following: higher property taxes; a new 2 percent tax on entertainment, including restaurants and bars; and an occupation tax that would collect $2 a month from people who work in Omaha and an equal amount from their employers.

Both of the two new taxes would affect not only Omaha city residents but also people who come into the city to work, dine or catch a movie.

Suttle has not decided that higher taxes are necessary, said spokesman Ron Gerard. But the mayor is concerned that current revenue may not be adequate to fund city services over the long run.

“We're at the edge of a cliff, and we don't want to fall off,” Gerard said.


Suttle outlined the two new taxes that the city could impose, each raising about $10 million a year. Both have been controversial in the past.

— The entertainment tax was proposed in 2007 as a way to finance the city's new downtown baseball stadium. It was dropped amid heated opposition from the restaurant industry. If Suttle revives the idea, he would need City Council approval.

— The occupation tax on employees has actually been on the city's books since 1983, when it was passed as a way to balance the budget in an earlier shortfall. But sales tax revenue rose, and the tax was never implemented.
WANT TO MAKE the city's financial problems a lot worse in a few years? Don't build the new stadium, and let the NCAA use the breach of contract to move the College World Series to another city -- one with a shiny new stadium. See $41 million in annual economic activity and more than $2 million in annual tax revenue disappear.

I wonder how much more taxes would have to be raised to make up for that? Alternatively, how much more draconian would cuts in city services have to be to fill the even wider budget gap?

Likewise, for the want of Joe Omaha paying an extra $42 in property tax for a $100,000 house or an extra $24 annual occupation tax, how much are Omahans really willing to sacrifice in quality of life?

Do they really want to live in a city even more underpoliced than it is now? Do they really want to live in a city that's closing public libraries? Or has noticeably rattier parks and public facilities?

Do they really look forward to living in a town without yard-waste collection?

HERE'S A reality check for you: Having your yard waste hauled off by a private contractor will cost you a lot more than $24 . . . and probably more than $42.

Hauling it to the dump yourself will set you back, too. And burning it in the back yard will get you a visit from the fire department -- assuming it can get there before you burn the neighborhood down, you idiot -- and an illegal-burning citation.

And how much is it worth to you to have the cops actually show up when you need them?

How much do you think the quality-of-life losses you're willing to set in motion for fear of having a decade of property-tax cuts rolled back a bit are worth to companies considering opening up shop (and creating jobs) in Omaha?

I'VE LIVED places with too much blight, not enough libraries and more crime than cops. You don't want to go there. Coincidentally, neither did companies that could have created lots of well-paying jobs.

Listen, it's not complicated.

We live in a pretty wealthy area of an extremely wealthy country. Times are tough, tax revenues are off, and the city has cut the budget close to the bone. Those are the plain facts.

If you value the city Omaha has become, and if you value not living in a s***hole, it's time to suck it up and do what needs to be done. Even $10 more in city taxes a month won't kill you -- it just won't.

Leave the third car in the driveway, cut back on your pay-per-view habit, tell Junior he has to choose between soccer and taekwondo,
then just suck it the hell up.

Omaha is a great city. That would be a hell of a thing to waste.

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