Here's why the tax lost on Tuesday

Ed Howell
Posted 8/17/17

Frankly, I think I was quite tired of writing about the subject of the proposed 1-cent sales tax by the weekend before the Aug. 15 referendum. I’m still tired of it, and thought seriously of addressing President Trump’s comments on the …

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Here's why the tax lost on Tuesday

Posted

Frankly, I think I was quite tired of writing about the subject of the proposed 1-cent sales tax by the weekend before the Aug. 15 referendum. I’m still tired of it, and thought seriously of addressing President Trump’s comments on the Charlottesville protests (which I want to protest in the strongest terms possible).

However, the failure of the tax at the polls on Tuesday was not just a local issue to mull over in terms of what happened. It is now a bigger issue of what will happen, as this county is in a messs of epic proportions.

As of Wednesday afternoon, I have not yet seen the box-by-box reports from the Probate Judge’s Office, but the reports came in informally to tax supporters so that we got the idea quickly. Jasper supported the tax but not in overwhelming numbers. Dora supported it, and maybe Carbon Hill did, but Sumiton came out against it, and so did many of the rural areas. When Farmstead came out against it, most in the room knew it was over less than an hour after the polls closed.

There were a lot of factors you can look at. The U.S. Senate race brought out Roy Moore supporters, and I am sure they in particular voted against it (although other GOP voters did, too, I’m sure, to varying degrees; this is also still a Trump county in general, which could translate into anti-government sentiment). The comments of one well-meaning businessman on the video presentation Sunday, asking those against the tax not to vote at all in the referendum, did turn off some voters.

Many “supporters” I feel, sat on their hands by not doing more to express public endorsement of the measure, perhaps hedging their bets. Facebook people raged against the tax, which certainly had to have an effect on others, building up a steam of “throw the bums out” mentality.

I wonder, quite honestly, about my own coverage, as some took it as biased for not having more negative comments. In truth, no organized opposition existed to talk to, and, in the end, public officials lined up behind it, at least officially. The business community was for it, through the county industrial board and the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County. People, frankly, don’t seem to like being in the old man-in-the-street interviews; they are more reluctant to get involved compared to the old days. In the end, all I could do was present as much of the details as I could. I know some were disappointed I didn’t have more critical response, but we did what we could with limited staff, time and such.

Most of all, though, I think the sins of the father were transferred to the sons, somewhat unfairly, but the sons did not give enough appearance that enough waste was cut, even after $7 million worth in the past few years. Someone told me that the district crews could be consolidated, for instance. Individual stories, whether true or imagined, were circulated of waste. The recent jail escape debacle probably didn’t help.

Also, many people were horrified that the sales tax would increase again, as it was already high in some communities. In the end, fueled by concerns the public felt they had experienced and energized by the “drain-the-swamp” mentality that thought bankruptcy might even cut more waste, just enough people voted the package down.

However, the comments to media by Chairman Jerry Bishop immediately after the vote count was announced, took a lot of people by surprise. Deep down, I think everyone would hope that the commission would still find a way around bankruptcy, despite their protests that would happen if the tax was rejected. But the idea of going back to legislators and suggesting perhaps another tax could be passed was bad enough — it was the attitude that the commission would pass it on to the legislators, it would be up to them to handle it, if they don’t do something they would be facing bankruptcy, etc. Bishop may have just been tired and dejected or what not, but it all came off wrong, reeking of, in my rewording, “They got the power. We’re going to pass the buck and see how they feel about it. It’s their problem now.”

I can tell you, I don’t think that idea will get very far at all. They know the problem belongs to the commission, and it looks like coming back after a tax defeat and vowing to pass it anyway.

So, now we can either have bankruptcy, make severe cuts or both. I would not mind if they go back on themselves and find a solution around bankruptcy. We need to do what we can, even if it involves raising some fees and cutting out departments, maybe even cutting crews down to nothing. They could buy themselves some time, make the severe cuts and maybe try property taxes again for the next budget year, which was something some people thought should have been tried first. (It still may be too late for that, as that still smacks of ignoring the vote.) I don’t know what the solution is, but it needs to be drastic to avoid bankruptcy — and I’m afraid the sheriff has to be a part of this solution, even as they have suggested in the past he be spared.

And don’t think this will not have ripple effects. The city of Jasper may have to come back and help with industrial recruitment; perhaps all the cities could get together to provide help based on population. Someone suggested some people in the county may wind up wanting to be annexed into cities, as county services could soon tank. You better get informed on paying taxes and fees online, because you won’t want to try it with reduced hours and staff. And the question was raised late (too late, for me) that if we go into bankruptcy, how could that affect borrowing for other cities and even private entities. The county surely won’t be able to borrow again for years.

In the end, a county government known through the years for doing things irresponsibly finally got a judgement from the people. They voted out people earlier, of course, but it seems like the average Trump voter, they wanted a new attitude and direction, and no one was steering the boat fast enough for them. They were angry for the past, upset for the present and skeptical about the future. They were not just voting against a tax, but a state of mind whose smell still hangs over the county government. They just didn’t trust the lot of them.

And then you could echo lines, taken a little out of context from the plot, from the film “The Magnificent Ambersons,” if a man named George could represent the county leaders of a generation:

“Something had happened. A thing which, years ago, had been the eagerest hope of many, many good citizens of the town, and now it had come at last; George Amberson Mainafer had got his comeuppance. He got it three times filled, and running over.” Only in the film, many had not lived to see the punishment and had forgotten Mainafer.

In Walker County, no one forgot. And that is why the tax lost.

Ed Howell is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s news editor.