All you have to do is mention the idea of a tax increase in Dorchester County and things go a little haywire.
People will proclaim they are taxed enough already. There may be cries of conspiracy, fears that soon dogs and cats will be living together. You might even see anti-tax groups aligning themselves with — gasp — Democrats.
Yes, it’s sort of like the end times.
The Dorchester County Council has put a referendum on the November ballot asking residents if they’d like lower property tax bills in exchange for a little bitty 1 percent increase in the sales tax.
The acronym for the local option sales tax is “LOST,” which is what this referendum has already done.
The county has tried to pass this tax three or four times in the past 20 years, and it’s gone down in flames every time.
This time may be the worst. Folks are mad and confused. They even claim the county is trying to bamboozle them.
And the county Republican Party is stuck smack dab in the middle of it all.
This really is the Apocalypse.
The Dorchester County Democratic Party came out early against the tax.
Now, this might confuse people who get their “news” from talk radio. Aren’t Dems the ones who have never seen a tax increase they didn’t like?
Uh, no. In fact, the sales tax is right in their wheelhouse — it’s a regressive tax.
“It’s a reverse Robin Hood tax,” says Richard Hayes, Dorchester Democratic Party chairman. “It hits the poor and lowest middle class the hardest.”
That’s because, opponents claim, a modest drop in property taxes on an average home will not offset the increase in sales taxes on everything else people buy, including food.
Yes, the local option sales tax would apply to groceries. Big tactical error there.
The Dorchester County Taxpayers Association says the extra tax on groceries alone will more than offset the property tax savings for anyone who doesn’t live in a big ol’ mansion. The group praised Democrats for opposing the tax and chided Republicans for not following suit.
But hold up on the criticism. Jordan Bryngelson, chairman of the Dorchester County Republican Party, says there is a resolution on the group’s agenda this week that will determine whether the party endorses or opposes the tax.
Most folks think they’ll oppose it, but there is a definite divide.
The pro-business, traditional Republicans like the idea — they favor lower property taxes; they say it helps attract business. And they are losing revenue to Charleston and Berkeley counties, both of which have local option sales taxes. Fact is, many Dorchester residents do most of their shopping in one of those two counties anyway.
But the conservatives don’t like any tax, especially not when they figure they won’t save a dime in the swap.
Funny, this is the same ideological battle raging in the GOP nationally.
A new hope?
As is often the case, Dorchester County Councilman Larry Hargett is on the opposite side of this issue from his colleagues.
He says the county hasn’t studied the effects of this tax enough, and he wouldn’t support it anyway because it applies to groceries.
Hargett tried to get the council to delay the referendum until next year — during a higher turnout, statewide election. But he got shot down.
Now, he says, the county is on the hook for $34,000, the cost of a one-issue election that could wait. And that only confirms the suspicions of folks who think the county is trying to slip one by. Well, it may not work out that way.
The Democrats are in full get-out-the-vote mode, both to stop the sales tax and test the new voter ID system. And the taxpayers association is riling up conservatives.
This is a healthy development in local politics — two normally opposing sides aligning themselves for what they see as the common good.
If they’d do this more often, they would find they have more common ground than they might imagine. It’d be nice to think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Nah, your regularly scheduled partisan bickering will resume shortly.
As soon as the sales tax has “LOST” yet again.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org