A railroad can be a good thing. Yet, there are problems with railroads. The railroad behavior of the Iowa City Press-Citizen is problematic. On Tuesday the “Ax the Tax” leadership met with the editorial board of the Cedar Rapids Gazette. They were attentive to the concerns and questions we raised about the May 5 Sales Tax vote and plans for that potential money. Though non-committal as to their position, several times they nodded their heads as if to say, “Yes, that’s true,” or “Good point.” They were honest about meeting with supporters of the tax increase also.
In contrast, I was informed by the Editorial page manager of the Iowa City Press-Citizen that, no, they were not inviting us for an editorial board meeting to discuss the sales tax. In fact, they had already met with the “Yes for all” group and were going to endorse the sales tax increase the next day, Wednesday. When asked why the “Ax the Tax” group had not been invited, the response was less than enlightening, just “we didn’t.”
The newspaper industry is in turmoil; people dropping subscriptions and cutting advertising. One of my neighbors is currently on a second one-week, unpaid furlough from the Press-Citizen. That doesn’t remove their responsibility to do their job, to ask the “5 W’s and an H - Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How?” As a graduate of the Indiana University School of Journalism that phrase was drilled into my head, along with the idea that a journalist’s responsibility to the community was to ask the tough questions, be the bulldog, and get the facts. We were taught to ask tough questions of government officials and never take their statements at face value. We were to be the voice of the underdog, the poor, and the masses. We represented the citizens. We were not the lapdogs of the elite and privileged. Unfortunately, the Press-Citizen management seems to have forgotten this role of the Fourth Estate.
It’s disappointing following the public demonstration of concerns about government management, as shown by the 400 people who turned up of their own initiative at the April 15 TEA, ”Taxed Enough Already,” Party. Those people were families, workers, teachers, retirees, elderly, and small business people who took time from their busy day to express their concern about government taxes and spending. Those people deserve respect and for their concerns to be heard. Those are the people the “Ax the Tax” group represents, not the political and business elite. Yet we were not listened to by the Press-Citizen.
A Sales Tax is regressive. Period. It is always regressive and always negatively impacts the poorest among us the most. National data shows that a worker making $15,000 will typically pay sales taxes on $6,800 of spending. Every penny increase will cost that worker $68.00. At 7 percent it will cost them almost $500 per year. The Sales Tax just went up “only one penny” two years ago with the SILO vote. The two combined total a 40 percent increase. That is significant. That will impact the poor, the students, and the retired.
What is most troubling about the support for this tax by the political and business elite in Johnson County is that philosophically they should be opposed to a sales tax. President Obama was elected specifically on the idea that the poor, middle-class, elderly, students, and retirees carry too much of the tax burden in this country, that this burden should be shifted to the wealthy. Based on the November election returns the community supports this idea. Instead they are publically and enthusiastically supporting the sales tax increase, instead of a property tax or user fees. This moves the tax burden from large property owners and businesses directly to the poor and elderly. They are encouraging a class warfare mentality, saying that 20 percent of the money will come from out-of-towners and students. The idea espoused is that we should take their money; they can afford it, and keep our own. Yet the Press-Citizen didn’t think the “Ax the Tax” group was worth hearing.
At the same time, local elected officials – the people who will be responsible for managing and spending these millions of dollars - have demonstrated serious management and accountability problems. For example, voting for an $80,000 piece of artwork instead of funding a needed and promised fire station. Firing the City Manager for some unknown reason. Incurring $80,000 in penalty payments. Not securing a FY 2010 earmark for the Coralville work from Congressman Dave Loebsack. Wanting another $10 million for the Iowa River Landing, which was supposedly designed not to flood? Allowing businesses and homeowners to build in the flood plain even after 1993. But no interview by the Press-Citizen with the private citizens asking the hard questions and digging for the factual data.
The 2008 flood damage was significant. People and businesses suffered financial losses. However, this money will not buy homes or put cash in pockets. In Iowa City and Coralville it will be used on “flood mitigation” projects, which have been hastily proposed and developed. There may be other options, better and cheaper options. But they are not being considered. In rural Johnson County and the other cities, the money will not be used for “flood mitigation,” but general infrastructure. These projects may be needed. However, they should – especially during the worst recession since the Great Depression – if necessary - be funded from current taxes, not new taxes. The “we want our share” mentality has led leaders of these communities to say, “The mall brings in lots of money, if we vote yes, we’ll get more.” They are not about to let a good crisis go to waste. Yet, the Press-Citizen wasn’t interest in hearing from “Ax the Tax.”
The “Ax the Tax” group is loosely organized and poorly funded; we are not the political and business elite of Johnson County. We are taking the time from our own busy schedules to ask questions, to be involved. We have shown up at forums, spoken on panels, and gone to TV interviews. We have gotten yard signs out and made phone calls. We have probably not done all we could, or followed up as well as we should have – but we are volunteers, we have jobs and families. We still deserve to be heard. You, the readers, of the Press-Citizen and the voters of Johnson County, deserve to be heard. You don’t deserve to be railroaded. Ax the Tax - Vote “NO” May 5.
Deb Thornton, Chair - Ax The Tax