Over the past year or so, the Leon County Sales Tax Committee (STC) has patiently listened to scores of proposals for the use of future sales tax. We could easily have a couple of billion dollars in ideas floating around the community. No doubt, we need infrastructure in this county and we need to expand our economic base too. However, we cannot expand our economic base by ignoring basic infrastructure necessary to support it, such as water quality and transportation, sewer and roads, and other needs that can only be met with an infrastructure sales tax. After the February 1 of the committee, I could not help but wonder if the Economic Development Council had hijacked the STC.
The Economic Development Council (EDC) is pressing for a commitment of 15% of the sales tax. Assuming a 20-year term, EDC is urging a commitment of $100- to $120 million for “economic development.” However, they will not be specific about the project for six months or so until after they finish a “visioning process” in partnership with Imagine Tallahassee, Inc., organized on January 28, 2013, for that purpose.
Three troubling issues came to mind during the committee’s discussions on February 1. First, STC discussed setting two different cut-off dates for projects. They mentioned an earlier cut-off date project proposed by the public. They discussed a later date for proposals by the Economic Development Council (EDC). Setting two different due dates seems to me to be inherently unfair. It seems fairer to set the same deadline for everyone. I realize STC has to cut off intake at some point, but that “some point” should be the same for everyone. To suggest that one group is entitled to more time than any other to develop their project list seems to me to be arbitrary.
The second troubling issue is wrapped up with the first. Because there have been so many proposals, staff recommended that the STC begin culling its projects. With its actions on February 1, it sounds as though the STC intends to determine which of the projects proposed by the public should be dropped or move forward. If the EDC does not submit its proposals until much later, it will have a smaller pool of projects with which to compete. My concern is that such a process gives undeserved weight to the EDC proposals. This is going to be a problem later if the public perceives excess consideration or weight were given to some EDC projects at the expense of more deserving projects proposed by the public.
The third troubling issue has to do with the proposal for up to six members of the sales tax committee to serve on Imagine Tallahassee, Inc.’s committee of 25. With so many members from the STC involved with the process, one cannot help but question how fair either process will be to more deserving non-“Economic Development” projects. At the February 1 meeting, some of the committee members argued, rightfully so in my view, members of the sales tax committee should not be participating on the EDC’s selection committee, nor should STC be reserving 15% of potential sales tax money for “economic development” projects. This latter point was somewhat mitigated by the idea to not allocate 15% of sales tax money for any particular project until EDC presents its proposals. Whether it is enough to relieve public perceptions of an unbiased selection process is another question. Using sales tax committee members to identify EDC proposals to identify proposals to send to the sales tax committee just does not sound reasonable to me.
For the past year, the public has been proposing projects for the sales tax committee to consider. With or without EDC’s list, there is significant economic activity associated with $700- or $800-million in infrastructure projects. For these reasons, I think the sales tax committee should reconsider its discussion and actions of February 1 to:
(1) set a single cut-off date for proposals;
(2) start culling projects at one time, not in two different phases; and
(3) allow someone other than sales tax committee members to be appointed to Imagine Tallahassee, Inc.’s committee of 25.