Some city officials and others in Las Cruces are proposing raising the gross-receipts or property tax this year to help fund “quality-of-life” initiatives such as operation and maintenance of city ball fields, creation of new bike paths and the expansion of artistic and cultural programs.
Yes, really. Even though the nation is in its worst economic shape since the Great Depression. And even though the city had to cut its budget by 5 percent last year in response to the recession.
How can this be a good idea? If governments are going to raise taxes during a recession — and I say if because I’m skeptical that it should ever be done — I can’t imagine a good reason to do it except for some significant economic development project, or a massive public infrastructure program like rebuilding the nation’s bridges — in other words, for a program that will keep a significant number of people working.
But what we’re talking about is raising taxes so kids who participate in sports programs don’t have to pay hefty fees, and so there are more publicly funded things to do in Las Cruces.
Come on. Families are struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table. In my opinion, the timing of this proposed tax is ridiculous.
In Albuquerque, there’s a similarly ridiculous proposal being floated by Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez. He wants to spend $6.48 million on a swimming lagoon at Tingley Beach and $8 million on a new soccer field complex. Fortunately, the city council is fighting the mayor’s attempt to secure public money for those projects, which would be funded through bond commitments, not increased taxes.
Though the Albuquerque example doesn’t include a tax increase, the point remains the same: Why would we divert precious resources during a major recession to fund new recreation and entertainment initiatives when people are finding it difficult to make ends meet?
Las Cruces may be on its way to doing just that. According to the Las Cruces Sun-News, supporters of the tax proposal, which will most likely take the form of a one-eighth of 1 percent increase in the GRT, packed a Monday meeting about the proposal. According to the article, “it was clear there is enough interest to begin a petition drive” which could lead to enactment of the tax.
Where were the tea-party attendees?
I raised the question last week about whether the April 15 tea parties were a one-time event or a new movement. In Las Cruces, the tea party appeared to have momentum: Some 400 people showed up to express their frustration with taxes, bailouts and other economic policies, and organizers scheduled another tea party for July 4.
But if they’re so worked up and concerned, why didn’t they show up to the meeting about this proposed tax hike? It’s a question the Sun-News raised this week in an editorial. Tea-party attendees took time last week to wave flags, hold up signs and listen to speeches, but when the time came to get their hands dirty, they didn’t show.
Clearly, the tax increase would financially benefit those who participate in city sports programs by reducing the need for fees. It would also create more recreation and entertainment opportunities. But it would put an additional burden on struggling city residents, including retirees on fixed incomes and the 23 percent of city residents living in poverty. And the current economic downturn has no end in sight.
Put simply, this isn’t the time for such a tax increase.
Regardless, if supporters of this tax hike stay organized and enthusiastic while opponents stay on the sidelines, there’s a good chance the tax will be enacted.