October 23, 2017

The Broken Record Plays Again!

Dr. Malcolm Cross

“I like paying taxes,” said Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.  “With them I buy civilization.”

I was thinking of that statement when working on my own income taxes the night before Tax Day.  “Well, Ollie,” I thought, “if you like paying taxes so much, why not pay mine as well?”  But then I realized Justice Holmes had gone to the Big Courtroom in the Sky back in 1935, and therefore wasn’t in a position to pay his taxes anymore anyway, much less mine.

But I thought again of his statement when several readers contacted me to ask if I thought Stephenville’s taxpayers liked how their taxes were being spent on economic development projects.  My readers’ queries were triggered by an excellent article in The Flash reporting on several SEDA initiatives to be financed by the sales tax revenue collected and paid by Stephenville businesses.  The article can be read here:  http://theflashtoday.com/2017/04/20/seda-to-use-consumer-cell-phone-data-to-attract-potential-development/.

One such SEDA program will give taxpayers’ dollars to private businesses to improve their buildings’ facades.  I suppose the operating theory is that more attractive buildings will attract more customers who will pay more for goods and services, thereby boosting business profits and sales tax revenue.  Whether this will actually happen remains to be seen.  Yet I can’t help but wonder why, if façade improvement will lead to greater sales and profits, businesses aren’t already investing their own funds to improve their facades?  Why do they need more aid from the taxpayers?

SEDA is also planning to contract with Retail Coach, an economic development consulting firm, to help attract more businesses to Stephenville.  Retail Coach’s services will cost about $5500.  This cost is relatively small, yet it is also to be paid out of taxpayers’ dollars.  In other words, Stephenville business are required to pay taxes to be used by the government to recruit competitors.  Now, no business has the right to be protected by the government from competition, but why should any business be forced to finance the search for potential competitors?  A more fair way to pay for Retail Coach’s services would be through private entities like the Chamber of Commerce or STEDCO.  Both are private organizations which can use, or should be able to use, their own funds their own ways, including the recruitment of new businesses. 

No doubt the defenders of these perfectly legal programs, as well as of the other forms of perfectly government aid being given to businesses—tax breaks, financial aid—will argue that my philosophical objections—aka my broken record—are irrelevant, and that these programs stand to grow both the economy and the tax base, and thereby produce more revenue for Stephenville while allowing future tax cuts as well.  They may be saying, “We like paying taxes.  With them we by prosperity.” And they may be right.  But to make certain they’re right to be as happy as Justice Holmes, the city should develop, if it hasn’t already done so, the metrics necessary to determine not only how much economic development we’ve had since the creation of SEDA and its programs, but—more importantly—how much can be attributed ONLY to the SEDA programs, and would not have occurred were it not for these programs.

By the way, another article in The Flash, available at http://theflashtoday.com/2017/04/20/city-admin-talks-event-center-council-election/,  shows why the voters should definitely be happy with Stephenville’s new city administrator and the taxes they’re paying to support his salary.  In this article he introduces much-needed realism into the discussion of the proposed conference center and how it might be financed.  Congratulations to the city administrator for his fact-based analysis of the matter, and to the city council for showing the good judgment in hiring him in the first place.  I hope my support for his position on this matter isn’t held against him.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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