Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Caution needed on combined sales tax pitch

Dianne Bonfield is right to be skeptical. The retiring Hernando School Board member correctly wonders why the school district, which is seeking renewal of a 10-year half-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax to maintain and modernize classrooms, should consider hitching its pitch to a new push by Hernando County government to try to get its own discretionary half-penny tax in a November referendum.

She recently asked County Administrator Len Sossamon and a roomful of Hernando's business elite pushing a Penny for Progress sales tax pitch: What's our benefit?

Good question. The supporters of a combined penny pitch tout a joint campaign with a political action committee raising and spending up to $120,000 to persuade voters to invest in their county. What they don't say is that the county effort needs the political pull of the school district. Ten years ago, voters approved the half-cent sales tax for school construction, while rejecting the same half-cent tax for county capital spending.

Combining the two sales tax plans into a single ballot question is a dangerous gamble for the School Board. The district is confronting a $283 million capital and debt service plan that already lost one of its key financial components — an impact fee assessed on new single-family home construction. In March, the Hernando County Commission, bowing to the politically influential building industry, rejected the school district's request for a new fee of almost $7,000 per house that had been projected to raise $61 million. Losing the sales tax renewal in the November referendum would leave another $78 million hole in the school's construction needs.

The district should question the wisdom of becoming partners with county commissioners who have done a poor job as fiscal stewards of past voter-approved taxes. In 2011, commissioners suspended a property tax for preserving environmental lands, authorized by voters in 1988, and instead used the tax proceeds to pay mosquito-control costs, previously financed in the general fund.

Voters confirmed the maneuver in a 2012 nonbinding referendum that continued to cap the special tax rate at 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. But earlier this month, commissioners again ignored the will of the electorate and eliminated that cap. It sets the stage for a property tax increase absent voter input.

Even worse, it was clear in the debate that two commissioners, Diane Rowden and Nick Nicholson, don't understand the intricacies of who pays and who is exempt from property taxes. Commissioners that out of touch with taxation and budget issues are going to have a hard time convincing the public that they should be in charge of new sales tax revenue.

There are many unanswered questions surrounding the county's sales tax proposal, which could raise $78 million. How much money will be shared with the city of Brooksville? Logically, the city, representing about 4.4 percent of the county's population, should receive 4.4 percent of the half-cent earmarked for county projects, or $3.3 million over 10 years.

How broad will the county's spending be? Sossamon already talked about dedicating 15 percent toward economic development and suggested 10 projects totaling $20 million to commissioners Tuesday. Sossamon also prepared a list of 16 road projects costing more than $96 million, nearly half of which is earmarked toward adding lanes to two roads, Powell Road and Barclay Avenue. If you're counting, that's $116 million in spending, or $38 million more than the tax is projected to raise for the county. So, expect some immediate pruning.

Hernando School Board members were correct to ask for more details, which are supposed to be coming in June. But, they shouldn't allow themselves to be overwhelmed by the promise of progress or the promise of political help passing the ballot measure.

They should scrutinize the county's spending plan thoroughly before deciding on a joint campaign and single ballot question. The School Board should remain open to allowing two separate tax questions to be judged on their individual merits.

Comments

Editorials of The Times

The Chutzpah of These MenA new phase of the #MeToo movement may be upon us. Call it the "not so fast" era: Powerful men who plotted career comebacks mere months after being taken down by accusations of sexual misconduct now face even more alarming cl...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital has begun the important work of rebuilding trust with its patients and the community following revelations of medical errors and other problems at its Heart Institute. CEO Dr. Jonathan Ellen candidly acknowledges...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

St. Petersburg’s 3-year-old recycling program has reached an undesirable tipping point, with operating costs exceeding the income from selling the recyclable materials. The shift is driven by falling commodity prices and new policies in China that cu...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18