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Updated: 01/21/2014 04:06:37AM

A penny well spent … for 10 years

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If current plans stay on track, Polk County voters will be asked by the county commission in November to approve a 1-cent local option sales tax to fund public transportation: half for roads, half for mass transit bus service.

The proposal is to reduce ad valorem property taxes by one mill, and pay for roads and bus service with the 1-cent sales tax.

We think the concept is a sound one. It would transfer the economic responsibility for transportation from property owners to all residents.

The concept that people wealthy enough to own property, whether homes or commercial real estate, should pay the lion’s share of taxes to support local government is outdated.

Further skewing that assumption is a system of exemptions which removes much of the value of a typical homestead from the tax rolls, further reducing the number of citizens who pay for the governmental services funded by the property tax.

Everyone who drives, or rides on, the highways enjoys the roads paid for by taxes. And the county’s ever-expanding bus service is available to everyone who needs or wants it.

It is reasonable to spread the tax base for roads and buses to all taxable goods and services, with a cap for large-ticket purchases like automobiles. Tourists and other visitors who enjoy Polk’s road network would pay a modest portion of the cost.

Last week, the mass transit board recommended that the tax be submitted with a “sunset” provision requiring it to expire, perhaps in 10 or 15 years.

We believe that is an excellent recommendation, and further believe that the limit should be 10 years. This would be plenty of time for county commissioners, both present and future, to demonstrate their ability to be good stewards of this new revenue source.

If they can demonstrate that stewardship in 10 years, and we suspect they can, they will deserve voter approval of another 10 years. If they fail to establish that credibility, they don’t deserve another decade.

Few citizens really want to pay more taxes, even when there is a trade-off of one tax (a one-mill cut in property taxes) for another (a 1-cent increase in the sales tax.)

But at this point — still 10 months out from the November election — the trade-off appears to be a good one.

The county commission will decide at its Feb. 4 meeting whether to put the issue on the ballot. If it does, it will also then approve the ballot language.

We urge the commission to put the issue before the voters in November, with a 10-year sunset provision.

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