April 4, 2005

Mercer County sales tax measure highlights progress vs. inaction

At issue in the upcoming election will be a proposed 1 percent sales tax increase, which is the most hotly debated topic in this rural county. The revenue from the increase is ear-marked for the Mercer County sheriff's department and to preserve jobs at the department and county jail.

The tax would be on sales of clothing, appliances, fuel, novelty items and restaurant meals purchased in the county. The current tax rate is 6.25 percent, which compares to 7.5 percent in Galesburg and 7 percent in Rock Island, Muscatine and Davenport. The proposed increase would bring Mercer County and Aledo's rate to 7.25 percent

The issue illustrates the current rift between progressive and conservative ideas on the role of government.

While sheriff Tom Thompson stress that the extra revenue is crucial, and affects public safety for rural residents, manning of the 9-11 system, and security at the jail and courthouse. He also notes that the county has very few places to look for generating revenue.

On the rigid right, there are the views of County board member Milton "Charlie" Box.
[Box] opposes the sales tax and said the county board needs to be more disciplined with what it spends money on.

"I don't think the county board wants to stay within its means," he said. "It's not the fault of the taxpayers, it's the fault of the county board. There's never been a government that's had enough money. I just think it's just a matter of discipline. You work with what you got."

Mr. Box cited contributions made to the Mercer Growth Organization, a proposed ferry project, Bi-State Regional Commission and annual lobbying trips to Washington, D.C., as money that could be used for basic county needs. He added that he didn't approve of the county using "scare tactics" on its employees by threatening to cut jobs if this tax does not pass.
In other words, government should be able to survive and provide a high level of safety and services to it's citizens on next to no money. Citizens should never give a dime to government, and if they do, they should deeply resent it. After all, "There's never been a government that's had enough money." Once you believe that, you can safely ignore reality entirely and view any need for increased revenue as somehow corrupt. This way of thinking holds an appeal for people that find examining issues and thinking about them to be difficult and uncomfortable. Why think when you can just dismiss stuff with handy slogans? It also validates their inclination to not want to give a penny for anyone else's benefit and unwillingness to contribute to the general good vs hoarding every dime for themselves.

Rather than feeling that paying taxes are a citizens duty, the right has succeeded in convincing people that the government has no right whatsoever to take anyone's money. "It's YOUR money", they said, in perhaps one of the most egregious and destructive lies told by the right. This caused millions of American's to feel that paying taxes is somehow a voluntary contribution, rather than a duty to your community and country.

And Box feels that "you work with what you got." Yes, that's hard to argue with. But what about when "what you got" just isn't enough? Mr. Box would apparently sit idly by while revenues for Mercer county dwindled to nothing and continued to cut personnel and services until there was only a sheriff who had to drive his own car on patrols part time. Cutting personnel is just a "scare tactic" to Box. Wonder what he'd say to the people that do get laid off if this tax proposal is defeated?

And of course, there's not a problem in the world that can't be solved by using good old fashioned discipline in Mr. Box's world. Rising gas costs? Just be disciplined. If you get a call of a robbery in progress or a serious auto crash, just don't drive over 20 mph and turn the engine off on downhill grades. Discipline, damn it!

And notice that he feels that any effort to talk to people outside the county or to participate in regional development groups is a waste. This is an extension of the conservative belief that we don't need anyone's help. It's like Bush thinking we don't need to reach out to any other countries, and don't need to give a damn what they think. Perhaps Mr. Box feels that those "development" people are probably liberal egg-heads and don't know what they're talking about. And what use are trips to Washington? This illustrates the views of many on the right that government in any shape or form is automatically bad and should be suspect. Cooperation is viewed with deep suspicion. The view of many on the right is to build a wall around your property, say to hell with everyone else, hoard as many weapons as you can, and view the government as your mortal enemy. Oh, and also become militantly Christian, except for that "love your neighbor", and "the least of these" parts.

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