Our view: Taxing questions
A recent community survey conducted by the city of Steamboat Springs indicates strong local support for the addition of a new “sin tax” to the sale of alcoholic beverages and marijuana to help support governmental operations.
The survey also gauged residents’ opinions about a number of other possible taxing mechanisms, including an increase to the city’s lodging tax, a new tax on lift tickets, a property tax and a general sales tax increase.
Among those options, respondents indicated they’d be most amicable to the aforementioned “sin tax,” with 47 percent indicating “strong support” for an additional tax on alcohol and marijuana and another 29 percent saying they’d “somewhat support” such a measure.
After a “sin tax,” an increase to the lodging tax garnered the next-strongest level of support, with 41 percent of respondents saying they’d strongly support the idea.
Conversely, respondents were coldest toward the notion of a general sales tax increase, with 65 percent of full-time residents indicating either strong or moderate opposition, and a property tax, with 59 percent saying they’d oppose such a measure.
It should be noted that the survey is only that — a survey — and no specific taxing mechanisms are currently being proposed. And, while the results are certainly a useful tool for gauging potential support for, or opposition to, specific funding mechanisms, we think there are more useful metrics to consider when crafting a tax proposal.
Our community, for all its undeniable attributes, also comes with a plethora of needs: establishing affordable workforce housing, repairing and expanding our educational facilities, taking care of our parks and trails, funding city services at a level residents and visitors have come to expect and continuing to combat the growing opioid epidemic.
These are but a few of the important issues we face, and in a perfect world, all would be fully funded. But a perfect world and the world in which we live are usually very different things, and the reality is that the level of taxation residents of a community can — or will — bear is finite. Once that level has been reached, voters will almost certainly reject further increases, regardless of how meritorious the cause.
It is also important to remember that tax dollars come at an economic cost: Drive taxes too high, and commerce will invariably seek greener — and more tax-friendly — fields.
For this reason — myriad needs coupled with limited resources — we feel the best approach is to first prioritize community needs, then establish a dollar amount to fund those needs, then approach the community about the best way to generate the required funds. In short, tax policy should ultimately be informed more by the city’s needs and priorities and less by which variety of taxation is the most or least palatable.
Thankfully, the survey also offered some insight into the community’s perception of our most pressing needs and priorities.
According to the survey, the top three issues the city should focus on are as follows.
- Developing or subsidizing new community housing for locals (50 percent)
- Maintaining fire and EMS service levels (49 percent)
- Economic development, including attracting and retaining new businesses (29 percent)
The survey is a fine place to initiate the conversation, and it is our hope the conversation will be driven first and foremost by our most pressing collective needs. To proceed otherwise, in our opinion, would be placing the proverbial cart before the horse.
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