Potential tax increases seen in budget plans

Published 6:00 am Monday, March 1, 2004

State officials are trying to keep up the appearance offulfilling their “no new taxes” pledge that many of them madeduring last year’s campaign. Unfortunately, some lawmakers’ actionsmay make it difficult for their local counterparts to keep the samepromise.

A Senate-approved bill to give county officials pay raises is agood example. The bill, which would provide for pay hikes of around20 percent, needs still an OK from the House.

Supporters say the raises would be the first for countyofficials in eight years.

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That may be true for some incumbents, but not for the newofficials who just took office in January. We’re pretty sure theyknew what the job paid when they asked for it.

The other problem is where the pay raise money would come from.Local officials would either have to raise taxes to cover their payhikes or reduce expenditures elsewhere, such as roads and bridgesor other county services.

A House-passed proposal, which would fully fund education andstate employees’ health insurance, also contains the hiddenpotential for a tax increase at the local level.

For Department of Audit services, the fee would increase from$12.50 to $30 an hour. Again, money to pay those higher costs wouldhave to be made up in the form of a tax increase or funding cutselsewhere.

Another example is a bill to lower the reimbursement rate from$20 a day to $15 a day per inmate to county jails for housing stateprisoners. Counties will have to find the additional $5somewhere.

More directly affecting citizens, fee increases on vanitylicense plates and vehicle titles would mean buyers will be payingmore for those items.

If education is not fully funded by the legislature, localschool districts will have to look to make up any fundingdifferences. According to a discussion at last week’s meeting, theBrookhaven School Board is already considering several tax increasepossibilities.

If that happens, it will put the board of aldermen, which is thetaxing authority for the city, in the difficult position of eitherraising taxes or cutting back on city services in an effort tooffset an increase for the schools. A similar fate awaits countysupervisors should the Lincoln County School District needadditional tax assistance.

Whether on the state level or the local level, a tax increase isa tax increase. With the budget situation facing the state, is thisthe time to be increasing government cost or decreasing it?