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Guest column | C.D. Chamberlain

End tax breaks and make businesses pay fair share

Back in the 1960s when I lived in Ohio, only property owners could vote on the school millage. Because I didn't own my house, all I could do was ask others how they voted. My next-door neighbor made no bones about how he voted. "Why, of course, I voted for the millage increase. Would be nuts not to. Over 60 percent of the school tax is paid by the factories in this town."

Those were the days. When last I checked, the share of taxes paid by industry had shrunk to about 16 percent. Homeowners have had the tax burden shifted to them. No wonder public education is financially starved.

Meanwhile, businesses whine that our public schools are failing to produce good workers. Duh! You get what you pay for.

It is disturbing to see local governments advertising themselves as "business friendly." Translated, this means businesses are invited (read: bribed) to locate in a particular community with the promise of a tax holiday, free land, assistance with bonds, special pricing of utilities, and just about anything else the business insists it must have. These "incentives" are little more than patronage doled out by politicians at public expense.

We hear it argued that bringing new jobs to a community results in expanding the local economy. In reality, a few property owners sell their land and become millionaires. It is a rare exception that local government incentives ever pay off for the community; instead, corporate profits are extracted from the local economy. Local government seldom finds that the anticipated revenue increase pays for all the expenses the new corporate resident demands. This same system makes Third World nations so prosperous.

The time has come for Florida to bring all this patronage to an end. Patronage is unfair to small businesses, existing businesses and all taxpayers.

Every tax break given to one group translates into a tax hike for everybody else. Florida needs a uniform tax levied on all businesses throughout the state, regardless of location. Neither the state nor local government should ever grant any business any kind of "deal." Everybody must be treated the same. Businesses that do not want to come to Florida on this basis can go rip off a foolhardy government elsewhere.

Further, appraising the value of a business is complicated. A value-added tax is simple. This is the easiest form of business tax to collect. The business pays an assessment based on the spread between what it pays for inventory and the price charged its customers.

Service industries would pay a percentage of their total billings. The uniform business tax should be collected by the state and then distributed on a per capita basis throughout the state. This approach would address the serious funding inequities that now exist in public education.

Patriotism must replace patronage. Real patriots do not ask what their country can do for them. Rather than seeking favors from elected officials (favors always to be repaid to the obliging politicians), patriots pay their fair share to support the public welfare.

C.D. Chamberlain has been a Methodist minister since 1962. During his ministry, he has served as a pastor, mental health administrator, lobbyist and editor. A California native, he was reared in Jamaica and lived in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and Tennessee, before retiring to Spring Hill. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

End tax breaks and make businesses pay fair share 05/19/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 21, 2008 1:40pm]
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