Though people won’t be voting on the penny sales tax at the primary election next week, Tom Phillips will be one of dozens of people at Thursday’s Straw Poll at the Bartow Civic Center to answer questions about what the extra penny can do for Polk County.
“It comes down to whether we want this by sales tax versus property tax,” he said.
The vote calls for a half cent tax on transportation and a half cent tax on roads.
In past votes, a sale tax extension for transit has been defeated at the polls two times, this one is a little different as it seeks money for road maintenance.
“Take someone with a $125,000 home and with a $50,000 homestead exemption, the savings would be $105 (on property taxes). So the net tax increase (with a sales tax) of a family of four is $4. You can call that a wash,” he said.
The money taken away from property taxes and put into sales taxes, he said, would have tourists and visitors coming to Polk pay for this.
According to Gordon Kettle, an economics professor at Polk State College and a consultant on the area’s economy, 20 percent of the sales tax paid in Polk County comes from people who don’t live in Polk County.
In 2008, the property tax for roads was $30 million. This year, mostly due to the fall of the economy over the past decade, there is $21 million.
“That’s $9 million we’re down,” he said. “According to Marsha Faux (Polk County’s Property Appraiser), we will not get to 2008 level again until 2025,” Phillips said. “What are we supposed to do about roads and transit?”
And, while Phillips cannot talk about his support nor opposition to the tax, he said, the problem has to be addressed in the best possible way for taxpayers. But he realizes the solution of a sales tax may be in harm bcause of the public’s lack of trust in the government.
“There’s a lack of trust in government in general,” he said. “I remind people this is a Polk County Board of County Commission referendum. These folks (the county commission) have a strict fiscal conservatism, but the people don’t trust the government.”
Further reason the sales tax has failed in the past could be due to those who do not use the transportation services in Polk County.
“If you don’t use the transit, you certainly use the roads and sidewalks and benefit from that,” Phillips said. “This isn’t about mass transit.”
He added: “People forget about the road component. If you have rubber in your garage, you need this.”
Economically speaking, too, Phillips said this could help the employment figure in Polk, which in July was 7.9 percent.
“We don’t have enough jobs in Frostproof for everyone in Frostproof. Subsidizing mass transit is better than paying for unemployment and food stamps. We have to give people the ability to get to and from work.”
How far that lack of trust in government carries voters will be seen at the Nov. 4 election. Making the rounds to talk about the sales tax hasn’t given Phillips an indication of where it may go and recent political rallies haven’t helped.
The sales tax lost by 2.5 percent in a straw poll in Winter Haven. In Haines City it lost by one vote. In Lakeland the sales tax won by 2.75 percent.
“If you look at the three straw polls together it’s going to be a tight race,” he said.
The penny sales tax is not the only item to appear before the voters that will be at the Straw Poll. Also scheduled to be on hand is Neil Combee, Carol Castagnero, Colleen Burton, John Hugh Shannon and Franklin “Ed” Shoemaker, running for the state House, Thaddeus Hamilton and Adam Putnam running for Commissioner of Agriculture. Alan Cohn and Dennis Ross running for the U.S. House of Representatives. Charlie Crist, seeking the Democratic nomination for governor as will Republican Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder and Farid A. Khavari, who is not in a party, will be there. Gov. Rick Scott has been contacted to be on hand, but as of Tuesday his office has not responded. Crist is running against Nan Rich in the primary but she will not be present. Also Winter Haven businessman Sam Killebrew will be there to talk about why voters should shy away from voting on the medical marijuana law.
The forum is free.