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Opinion
Sarasota Thursday, Jul. 15, 2021 1 week ago

Wrong time for new tax

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It makes little sense for the Sarasota County Commission to adopt a new tax for mental health services — especially when living costs are rising rapidly and the county is awash in federal cash.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

Think of this: More than $80 million of federal money coming out of thin air and deposited in tranches of $40 million into Sarasota County accounts over the past two years and next year.

Local governments all over the U.S. are so awash in this federal relief money that many local government officials will tell you  privately they don’t know how to spend it all or can’t spend it all.

Ha! Of course, they’ll find a way to spend it.

But here’s the point: With all this money gushing into local coffers, Sarasota County Commissioner Mike Moran is determined to have the County Commission impose a new mental health tax on county taxpayers. And that’s even knowing that much of the federal money is designated for mental health.

A new tax? Sorry, it shouldn’t happen.

This new tax idea might be the big legacy Moran wants to leave behind, but it makes little sense — especially now.

Let us count a few reasons why:

  • Rising prices and declining purchasing power. Thanks to Congress and the Federal Reserve Bank flooding the market with new spending and printing trillions of new dollars (i.e., the definition of inflation), too many dollars are chasing a shortage of goods and services, and this is driving prices up for everything.

And who do rising prices hurt the most? The Sarasota County residents who can least afford it. They don’t need another tax.

  • Where is the data that show the unarguable, compelling need for the county to add more taxation specifically to provide mental health services? What’s more, where is the data that show what the positive results of this new tax are likely to be?

Yes, mental health illnesses are prevalent and a serious concern in every community. So is cancer. So is substance abuse. So is heart disease. So is obesity. So is child abuse. So is child hunger. So is homelessness. The list goes on.

Why a tax for mental health and none of the others?

  • Why is it the job of the County Commission to take more money from taxpayers and be the entity that controls the disbursement of these funds?

Moran, for instance, made a big issue recently of his disappointment with the way the Sarasota County Economic Development Corp. managed tax dollars for economic development. Why should taxpayers have confidence the county government will be any better at being an effective steward of mental health funding — more so than, say, all of the private not-for-profits in this community whose mission includes addressing mental health?

The private sector has always proven to be a better service provider than government.

  • If Moran is so convinced that more county tax dollars should be used for mental health services, why aren’t they now? Why isn’t he making the case to make such funding a priority over other county expenditures? Isn’t that what commissioners are elected to do — to make tough choices? Shouldn’t that avenue be exhausted before pursuing a new tax?
  • If the county is so awash in federal relief money, much of which has been designated for mental health, then what’s the rationale for a new tax? Use it.

We hear pushback that there’s uncertainty over the rules for that federal money. But c’mon. The last thing the Biden administration and Democrats would cut is mental health spending.

Likewise, Moran and others make the argument the federal relief money is a one-time boost and won’t last, whereas a tax could provide a permanent source of funding.

Here’s an idea: Take the federal relief money designated for mental health, and create an endowment as a permanent source.

We know Moran is well meaning, and like most politicians, he wants to do good as he thinks it should be done. But, sorry, this idea for a new tax is the standard default for the do-gooder politicians: to use the power of office and the force of government to take people’s money for their pet projects, taxpayers be damned.

Be more creative: Rather than force all taxpayers to pay a mandatory new mental health tax, make it optional. When you check out at Publix, you often have the option to press a button to send money to a charity. The county could do the same for mental health.

This is no time to be adopting new taxes — no matter the cause.

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