September 9, 2009
Dickert: Sales tax increase will lower property taxes, improve transit
Mayor John Dickert is saying publicly he supports increasing the local sales tax.
Political suicide? Maybe not.
Dickert said he backs Gov. Jim Doyle's plan to use a sales tax to pay for regional transit, including buses and commuter rail, because it could save property owners money. Here's the rationale:
1. Money collected from a sales tax could pay for city buses, offsetting the city's $1.5 million contribution to the Belle Urban System. (The $1.5 million number comes from City Administrator Tom Friedel, who pulled it from the 2009 city budget.)
2. Eliminating $1.5 million from the city budget would reduce the property tax about 24 cents per $1,000 - or roughly $24 on a $100,000 home. (The 24-cent number comes from the city's finance department.)
3. Of course, the property tax relief would come at the expense of a sales tax increase. But you'd have to spend $4,800 on taxable items to reach $240 in increased taxes. In other words, simply pulling the buses out of the city budget would save property owners money.
4. A sales tax for the RTA would generate enough money to improve regional transit - a change from the annual cuts to local bus service. Dickert said he wants to see Racine buses going to Kenosha, Caledonia, Union Grove and South Milwaukee. On the west end of the county, he'd like to see Milwaukee buses connecting Burlington. "We need a true regional system," Dickert said. "We need to stop talking about as borders we can't cross."
5. A sales tax is spread over a wider base than property taxes, which are paid by a select group of area residents. Everyone buys things subject to sales tax.
All that said, Dickert acknowledged it could be a difficult sell throughout the county. Democrats Cory Mason and John Lehman have both come out against a sales tax, and KRM commuter rail backers are still leaning on a rental car tax to pay for the train service through Racine County.
But Dickert said a sales tax would provide the framework to create a transit system that would attract businesses to southeastern Wisconsin and connect workers in Racine to jobs throughout the area.
"That's my push," he said, adding he'd work with Lehman, Mason, County Executive Bill McReynolds, and others to pursue the sales tax. "Our biggest failure will be if the train and regional transit system are not put into effect. We will set ourselves back if we don't do something."