Friday, February 11, 2011

Street Maintenence Tax

This Thursday my article in favor of a Street Maintenence Tax was published in the Standard-Times. I won't reprint it here, it is available at

I do want to expand on the topic and cover some issues that came up in comments at gosanangelo.

I was promoting a diversion of one-eigth cent of the existing half-cent tax to streets. As is our current half cent tax, this is regulated by state statute. Actually, it could be twice that, but has to move in eigth-cent increments. It cannot increase our total tax, we are capped there by state law.

It can only be put in effect with voter approval. Council can decide to give us the option, but only if voters approve can this happen. As I mentioned in the article, unlike the 4B we now pay, a street tax HAS to "sunset" or come up for reapproval by voters again, every four years.

Legislature has provided for the street tax in a capped city to take place in one ballot proposition. In other words, we cannot find ourselves in the absurd position of approving a street tax but not approving the reallocation of the 4b tax.

The sales tax eigth-cent has to be accounted for. It cannot be used for new streets. It cannot be used for sidewalks along streets. It can only be used for "maintenece of existing streets". Sealcoat, potholes, total resurface if needed, yes.

I mentioned in the article; an eigth of anything sounds small, but here, depending on the economy and total sales tax receipts that is at least $1 million, $1.5 million
in a good year, and we've seen a bit better than that. Now we are talking eigth-cent that could replace the general fund money we now spend on streets.

Here we come to why this is a winner. While the limits on using Street Maintenence sales tax revenue are strict, the use of the general fund money freed up is limited only to what a home rule city can do now. Money is fungible. If we decide to spend that $1.5 money doubling up on street expenditures; if we decide to spend it on employee benefits; if we decide to use it for (Heaven forfend) tax reduction: we can do any of the above or any mix of the above. I would hope for some reasonable mix.

Look at it this way, if you had any involvement in last year's budget process, wouldn't you have absolutely loved a buck-and-a-half wiggle room?

The down side, if one wants to call it that is this. The 4b tax we just extended without a sunset had certain specific projects in it that are now locked in from coliseum/fairgrounds improvements to river improvements to sports facilities. Let us not forget the "water" issues, but those, being on ballot, are inviolable, they will be done. Uh, no, it won't pay for all the Hickory costs, sorry about the voters who thought that, but no one ever quite said that, best case 4b will pay about $30 million out of $150 million.

No the down side is if we approve a Street Maintenence Tax, the City of San Angelo Development Corporation will have less money to spend on what I rudely call "corporate bribery". I cannot buy the idea of government picking winners and losers and doing it better than the market. Governments love to brag on it when "economic incentives" work and hope voters will forget the ones that don't. Anybody remember Taylor Publishing? If you know someone who can use a nice empty building east of town, we have one; CHEAP!

Me, I have a job, might like better pay, but I'll get that on my own before the city gets it for me. I'd be happy with good streets to get to and from work on.

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