Imagine you are an elected official faced with a potential budget gap of between $30 million and $55 million. Under those circumstances, would you vote to increase taxes by $130 million – not just for one year, but to make it a continuing, never ending tax increase? Well that is exactly what three of the five Cobb County Commissioners voted to do last Tuesday.
They voted in favor of a resolution asking the Cobb County legislative delegation to approve a law allowing for a new one percent sales tax to be imposed upon Cobb County taxpayers, thereby raising the county sales tax from six to seven percent.
The question then needs to be asked: why?
According to proponents of the new tax– and specifically its main sponsor, Commissioner Bob Weatherford (who just happens to be a former police officer)– this new $130 million per year tax is needed to make sure that the sacrosanct category of public safety be fully funded. Therefore, this tax would pay for public safety and take this budget item out of the general fund where it has traditionally been funded via property taxes since the inception of the County.
There’s only one problem with this resolution: public safety does not even begin to cost $130 million annually. Maybe more like $60 – 90 million, depending on who you want to believe. And the budget gap, which I would contend is largely bogus and unsubstantiated, likewise does not even come close to the $130 million in additional annual revenue.
I hate to beat a dead horse, but we are talking about an annual tax increase of $130 million. In 10 years, according to my second-grade math, that would amount to $1.3 billion, not factoring in inflation, to cover, at best, a $55 million budget gap.
I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that this is insane– and is but another sad example of big government liberals seeking to quench their insatiable thirst for more and more of our hard-earned tax dollars. So, say for the sake of argument, that the county uses the $130 million annual windfall to pay down the so-called budget gap of $30 million, and are left with a measly one hundred mil to fully fund public safety, which at the very most is $90 million. Then you are left with a $10 million surplus, plus you have freed up $60 to 90 million from the general fund. And mind you: this is just over the course of one year. Then, what will the county do with this huge windfall?
It could be argued that that amount could be rebated to taxpayers in the form of a millage rate decrease. Yet in the language of the resolution, there is no commitment to do so, or even a hint of doing so. Unfortunately, what is really going on here is a money grab by three commissioners: Weatherford, Birrell, and Chairman Mike Boyce, who are seeking to abdicate their responsibility to live within their ever-growing needs and seek instead the easy expedient of yet another tax increase.
And why do I say ever growing means? It is because the tax digest in Cobb County is at historical highs and has risen 6.5% last year over the previous year. So, in the face of more money pouring into the County’s coffers then ever before, how is it that the County is facing a $30 – 55 million budget gap? Well the first thing that needs to be asked: Is there really such a budget gap in the first place? And secondly, why is the amount that is bandied about have a range of $25 million? Methinks that the number crunchers in the County’s finance department either does not have a handle on the budget or are deliberately misleading the public to quench their insatiable thirst for tax dollars. Either way, it is unacceptable and outrageous.
In the meantime, over the past year the County has been spending money like drunken sailors. On the same night that they approved the aforementioned resolution, they approved $845,000 in pay raises for Cobb police officers and have previously voted to spend close to a million dollars to subsidize non-profit charitable organizations. Moreover, the Board of Commissioners have gone merrily along with spending over a million dollars for traffic control and security for the Braves during at-home games, meekly acquiesced to paying $12 million in infrastructure spending around the new stadium, and millions in pay raises for County employees.
Indeed, if we are truly facing a budget gap of this magnitude, now is not the time to spend additional monies with such wanton abandon. On the contrary, what is needed is a full forensic audit of the budget to find out what is really going on. I suspect that this level of transparency will uncover a level of waste, fraud and abuse that at least three County Commissioners would prefer never to see the light of day. To which I respond: Let the Sun shine in.
Lance Lamberton is the Chairman of the Cobb Taxpayers Association.