Shared from the 2016-10-17 Palm Beach Post eEdition

Businesses ready to spend $200,000 to push sales tax hike

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Joe Rooney

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Shant

A business group says it’s prepared to spend around $200,000 to promote passage of a Nov. 8 ballot question asking Palm Beach County voters to hike the local sales tax to 7 percent from 6 percent to improve schools, parks, roads and other infrastructure projects.

The late spending by a political committee called the Palm Beach County Business Alliance for Better Schools and Roads comes on top of taxpayer-financed videos, brochures, a website and other “educational” materials produced by the county government and School District that present the sales tax increase in a favorable light without expressly urging voters to support it.

The sales tax increase would raise an estimated $2.7 billion over 10 years, with half the money going to schools, 30 percent to the county government and 20 percent to municipal governments.

The Economic Council of Palm Beach County and at least four large chambers of commerce have come out in support of the tax hike.

The pro-tax political committee raised only $21,600 through Oct. 5. But Joe Rooney, the acting CEO of the Economic Council, said about $80,000 more has come in since then, and additional commitments should bring the total to about $200,000. That will pay for “Vote Yes on the Penny” mailers, web ads and yard signs, Rooney said.

“It’s not a natural thing for business to be pro-tax,” said Rooney, the brother of U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, and a member of the family that runs the Palm Beach Kennel Club. Rooney said he and others in the business community believe there’s a need for the projects the tax increase would finance.

“Without good infrastructure and without good roads, attracting and retaining business in Palm Beach County becomes much more difficult. ... That’s too big a part of economic development to just let languish,” Rooney said.

And Rooney said raising money through a sales tax is a better option than raising it through either property taxes or a bond issue.

There’s no organized opposition spending money against the sales tax hike. But critics like Fred Scheibl, of the Palm Beach County Taxpayer Advisory Board, hope voters will reflexively vote against a referendum asking them to put more money into government coffers.

Scheibl says some infrastructure spending is needed, but the sales tax would create a “slush fund” for wasteful projects.

“Most people are not going to be exposed to pro or con arguments. Most people I think will see it (on the ballot) and say, ‘Hell no,’” Schiebl said.

Republican County Commission candidate Taniel Shant, challenging Democratic incumbent Mary Lou Berger in a south county district, has been a vocal opponent of what he labels a 17 percent tax hike (going to 7 cents on the dollar from 6 is, indeed, a 16.7 percent increase).

Shant faces long odds in the heavily Democratic district, but says most voters he talks to agree with him on the tax.

“It’s almost all negative,” Shant says of voter reaction to paying more in sales taxes. “They don’t want to pay 17 percent more.” gbennett@pbpost.com

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