Seven months ago I and most concerned and involved taxpayers in Cobb County were looking forward to the dawn of a new day, when the autocratic ways of the outgoing chairman of the Board of Commissioners, Tim Lee, were going to be put behind us.
Well, no longer than seven months into the term of the new chairman, Mike Boyce, and we are finding that the new boss is the same as the old boss. That’s how long it took for “Tax Hike Mike” to cave in to the special interests and propose a millage rate increase at a time when Cobb is bringing in more tax revenue from increased assessments than ever before in the history of the county.
Ideally, we would have hoped that under new leadership Cobb would be following the lead of our neighbors in Cherokee County and rolling back the millage rate to make it revenue neutral. But even if we were to concede the need for more revenue to fill “holes” (Boyce’s term) in the budget arising from the great recession, a $2.06 billion increase in the tax digest, without even increasing the millage rate, should be more than enough– especially considering that these increases will be realized year after year. To add a millage rate increase on top of that is adding insult to injury.
Conservatives in Cobb County, myself included, should have anticipated this unfortunate turn of events. Boyce’s campaign against Lee was a one-trick pony where the only message he had was that Lee duped the taxpayers with the Braves deal and should therefore be thrown out of office. It worked. However, in the course of his campaign, never did he articulate a vision for fiscal conservatism. I feared that his background in the military, and his lack of experience in the competitive world of the private sector, would predispose him to ask for more money, and that the measure of success in his world would be how well you could make the case for getting more money from the taxpayer verses other competing interests. Sadly enough, my fears came to fruition.
The danger signs were there from the beginning of his taking office, starting with his immediate cave to the Braves for a disputed $12 million in infrastructure spending around the new stadium. This was done even after his own transportation director made the case that taxpayers had already met their obligation under the terms of the contract. Then there was Boyce’s open boasting about across-the-board pay raises for county staff regardless of performance. Yep. For a colonel in the military, keeping your subordinate’s fat and happy is a sure-fire way to be successful at your job.
In the meantime, what has Boyce done to reduce wasteful spending? Absolutely nothing. The unsavory pattern of spending millions on high-paid out-of-town consultants for “studies” on how to squander more of our money (work that could be done in-house) continues unabated. Now he is looking to expand massively subsidized public transit to include Sunday service. Oh brother. And he supports spending $13.7 million on three miles of hiking trails. The list could go on and on.
In the meantime, has Boyce ever bothered to ask how many seniors on fixed incomes who might be driven from their homes with his increased property taxes? How many of those will it take for Boyce to begin to have a pang of conscience and finally realize that his wasteful and bloated budget is causing real pain to real people; the people he is supposed to represent?
I am disgusted with this turn of events. And if you think higher taxes have no economic consequences, I ask you to think again. Many of us in Cobb County, including myself, are taxpayer refugees from high tax states. We benefit from that, but not for long if we continue on the path Boyce is following. When I grew up in New York, my parents moved to Connecticut to escape oppressive taxation– where Connecticut did not, at the time, have a state income tax. Now Connecticut taxes are on a par with New York and the consequences are predictable. Major corporations are leaving the state, real estate values are static or declining, and there is a net out-migration of population.
So if Boyce wants to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, then all that “Tax Hike Mike” needs to do is to keep doing what he is doing. Moreover, without determined taxpayer resistance, I fear that this round of tax hikes is but the beginning.
Boyce and his minions like to brag about how much better off we are then DeKalb County. Really? Comparing Cobb to the most corrupt and overtaxed county in Georgia is not a fair comparison, unless of course he wants to emulate that “model.” On the contrary, he needs to look no further than Sandy Springs–right in Cobb’s own backyard– where outsourcing is achieving admirable efficiencies in the delivery of truly needed public services.
Of course, taxpayers can retaliate at the ballot box, but we thought we already did that by throwing out Tim Lee.
The final vote on Boyce’s tax hike will take place on Tuesday, July 25th. Readers of this column are encouraged to attend that final hearing at 7 pm, 100 Cherokee Street in Marietta and voice their outrage.
Also, Cobb Countians should attend Boyce’s upcoming town hall meetings scheduled between now and then. To get the dates and times, go to the Cobb County website.
Lance Lamberton is the Chairman and founder of the Cobb Taxpayers Association.